Plastic found in human blood for the first time. Is it a public health risk?

New research has found evidence of plastic in human blood for the first time. But how it might get there on a regular basis and what lasting impacts can be expected, including whether it can cross the blood-brain barrier, are open to further discovery.

Still, it’s a telling revelation given that microplastics – some created from scratch for everyday products including toothpaste and the like, and the result of more plastic breaking down – have been known to be inhaled from the air or digested by eating fish, for example, and other foods. You eat or breathe around 2,000 tiny plastic particles every week, the World Wildlife Federation found in a 2019 study. Many are ingested from bottled and tap water.

Read more: MarketWatch’s Amelia Langas explains how these 5 millimeter pellets affect humans and the environment.

Much of the world is not likely to wean itself off the hygienic and convenient features of plastic without a radical consumer overhaul. Plastic production, which has revolutionized everything from administering medical care to keeping food fresh longer, is expected to quadruple by 2050.

‘…[N]o Study to date has reported on internal exposure of plastic particles in human blood.


—Dick Vethaak

But health issues, in fact, can just lead to this change in behavior.

For this new study, the researchers analyzed blood samples for traces of different polymers, which are the building blocks of plastics. The study was small; 22 anonymous donors gave blood samples and some plastic variation was found in 80% of the study group.

Dick Vethaak, professor of ecotoxicology, water quality and health at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and his co-authors were published this week in the peer-reviewed journal International Environment.

“Plastic particles are ubiquitous pollutants in the living environment and food chain, but no study to date has reported on internal exposure of plastic particles in human blood,” Vethaak and his colleague wrote. team.

“An understanding of exposure to these substances in humans and the hazard associated with such exposure is necessary to determine whether or not exposure to plastic particles poses a risk to public health,” they added.

The next steps, according to the group, are to determine: where are these particles moving? Do they accumulate in certain organs? Is the accumulation high enough to trigger the disease?

According to a 2017 study, humans have produced 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic since large-scale plastic production began in the early 1950s. A comparison says the amount equals 1 billion elephants.

Most prominent in the blood samples was polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic commonly used in the manufacture of drink bottles, food packaging and fabrics. And the second most common plastic: polystyrene, which is used to make disposable plates and food containers, including what is called polystyrene foam.

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The third was polyethylene, a material regularly used in the production of paints, sandwich bags, shopping bags and detergent bottles. And, perhaps surprisingly to some, it’s also found in toothpaste and sunscreen. The ultra-fine grain creates the toothpaste and lotion consistency that its makers say gives products structural integrity.

Read: Recycling is confusing – how to be smarter with all that plastic to go

Polypropylene, which is also used in the manufacture of food containers and carpets, was also found, but in concentrations too low for accurate measurement, the researchers said.

The next steps, according to the group, are to determine: where are these particles moving? Do they accumulate in certain organs? Is the accumulation high enough to trigger the disease?

Humans have produced 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic since large-scale plastic production began in the early 1950s. according to a 2017 study. A comparison indicates that the amount is equivalent to 1 billion elephants. Nearly 80% of this plastic now ends up in landfills. Learn more about EPA plastics.

“Most plastics don’t biodegrade significantly, so human-generated plastic waste could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-author of the 2017 study, at the time.

The persistent problem, the solution to plastic waste and overuse has joined the top ranks of other environmental concerns. In fact, many problems are linked: the fight against plastic pollution could take up to 10-13% of global budget needed to reduce carbon emissions.

There are signs that policy changes are coming. The United Nations, over the next two years, will finalize its first-ever treaty binding countries to control plastic waste.

All the plastic used can be made into new things, but collecting, sorting and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, which means it cannot be reused too many times. The new plastic is much cheaper to manufacture. It is a derivative of CL00 oil,
+0.32%
and historically, virgin plastic is the best quality.

And finally, plastic recycling programs are popular, but still imperfect.

Read: Here’s the tiny percentage of recycled plastic despite single-use bans, taxes and incentives


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