The Plastic Pandemic

By Amelia Lipcsei

Three weeks ago, a study published by Environmental International found microplastics in human blood for the first time: a discovery that could reveal major health risks for all people. For many years, professionals argued that ingested microplastics passed through the body and left through defecation; however, now with more advanced technology, researchers have found around 1.6 micrograms of plastic particles per blood sample in over 80 percent of people. 

Although the effects of microplastics on human health are not yet fully understood, adverse symptoms appear to correlate with high concentrations of microplastics in the blood. In fact, Fay Couceiro, an environmental pollution expert, explains that “high concentrations of microplastics in our lungs may cause inflammation, asthma-like symptoms, and tissue damage” (Delgado). Similarly, microplastics also appeared in lung tissues according to the study done. All samples showed a range of different plastics, with the most common being Polyethylene terephthalate, a material used in the making of plastic water bottles. Large amounts of microfibers and particles, which indoor air contains high concentrations of, were also found in the lungs and blood. 

While conclusions about the health risks caused by microplastics cannot yet be drawn, these results pave the way for further research and experimentation. Recently, Dick Vethaak, an exotoxiologist in the Netherlands, acknowledged the need for further studies, especially in young kids. In fact, he discovered that “microplastics were 10 times higher in the feces of babies compared with adults,” and that “babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day” (Carrington). More susceptible to chemical and particle exposure, babies may be at great risk of developing adverse effects from these microparticles. Thus, to aid in fully understanding these risks, researchers are already conducting new studies about the impacts of fibers and particles in the body—studies that will hopefully reveal the true extent to which plastics impact human health.