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March 25, 2022

An 'alarming' discovery: Microplastics found in human blood for the first time

Daily Briefing

    Microplastics were found in the blood of nearly 80% of people in a recent study published in Environment International, marking the first time the particles have ever been detected in human blood.

    Study details

    For the study, researchers tested the blood of 22 donors for five different types of plastic, including:

    • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
    • Polypropylene (PP)
    • Polystyrene (PS)
    • Polyethylene (PE)
    • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

    The researchers found that microplastics were present in the blood samples of 77% of the people tested. The most commonly detected microplastic was PET—often used to produce bottled drinks, food packaging, and clothes—which was present in 50% of the analyzed blood samples.

    The second most commonly detected microplastic was PS, which is used to make many different household products, followed by PE, which is commonly used in the production of plastic bags.

    The overall concentration of plastic particles in donors' blood averaged 1.6 micrograms—the equivalent to one teaspoon of plastic per the amount of water in ten large bathtubs.

    And while the amount may seem small, researchers only searched for a few plastic polymers, and there could be different concentrations of plastic particles in different parts of the body, USA Today reports.

    Reaction

    Dick Vethaak, a professor of ecotoxicology and water quality and health at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and one of the study's authors, said the findings were "certainly alarming because it shows that people apparently ingest or inhale so much plastic that it can be found in the bloodstream."

    According to Nature, no study published has yet looked at the effects of microplastics on humans. However other studies have found that, when given large quantities of microplastics, mice can have inflammation in their small intestines, low sperm counts, and smaller pups compared with control groups, Fortune reports.

    "This research found that almost eight in 10 of people tested had plastic particles in their blood. But it doesn't tell us what's a safe or unsafe level of plastic particle presence," Verthaak said. "How much is too much? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out. As our exposure to plastic particles increases, we have a right to know what it's doing to our bodies."

    Jo Royle, CEO of Common Seas, a group that funded the study and calls for the end of plastic waste in the world's oceans, said the findings of the study are "extremely concerning."

    "We are already eating, drinking, and breathing in plastic," Royle said. "It's in the deepest sea trench and on top of Mount Everest. And yet, plastic production is set to double by 2040."

    "We have a right to know what all this plastic is doing to our bodies," Royle added, "which is why we’re asking business, government and philanthropists around the world to fund urgent further research into clarifying our understanding of the health impacts of plastic via a National Plastic Health Impact Research Fund."

    "The big question is what is happening in our body?" Vethaak said. "Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, such as getting past the blood-brain barrier? And are these levels sufficiently high to trigger disease? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out." (Cockburn, The Independent, 3/25; Mellor, Fortune, 3/24; Snider, USA Today, 3/25; Schnell, The Hill, 3/24; Carrington, The Guardian, 3/24)

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