Worrying: Microplastics found in human blood for the first time

Microplastic contamination has been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding the tiny particles in nearly 80% of those tested.

The discovery shows that the particles can travel through the body and lodge in organs.

The discovery shows that the particles can travel through the body and lodge in organs. The health impact is still unknown. But researchers worry that microplastics are damaging human cells in the lab, and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of premature deaths a year.

Huge amounts of plastic waste are being dumped into the environment and microplastics are now polluting the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. The tiny particles were already known to be consumed by humans through food and water, as well as by inhalation, and were found in the feces of infants and adults.


Microplastics in human blood

Scientists analyzed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults, and found plastic particles in 17. Half of the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in beverage bottles, while that a third contained polystyrene, which is used to package food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic bags are made.

“Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood; this is a groundbreaking result,” said Professor Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we need to expand the investigation and increase sample sizes, number of polymers assessed, etc.” Other studies are already underway by various groups, he said.

“It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told the Guardian. “The particles are there and they are transported throughout the body.” He said previous work had shown that microplastics were 10 times more numerous in babies’ stools than in adults, and that babies fed from plastic bottles swallow millions of microplastic particles a day.

“We also know that in general, infants and young children are more vulnerable to exposure to chemicals and particles,” he said. “That worries me a lot.”

New discoveries

The new research is published in the journal Environment International and adapted existing techniques to detect and analyze particles as small as 0.0007mm. Some of the blood samples contained two or three types of plastic. The team used steel syringe needles and glass tubes to avoid contamination, and analyzed background levels of microplastics using blank samples.

Vethaak acknowledged that the amount and type of plastic varied widely between blood samples. “But this is a groundbreaking study,” he said, and more work is now needed. He said the differences could reflect short-term exposure before blood samples were taken, such as drinking from a plastic-lined coffee cup or wearing a plastic face mask.

“The big question is, what is going on in our body?” said Vethak. “Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, such as crossing the blood-brain barrier? And are these levels high enough to trigger disease? We urgently need to fund more research to find out.”

The new research was funded by the Netherlands National Organization for Health Research and Development and Common Seas, a social enterprise that works to reduce plastic pollution.

“Plastic production will double by 2040,” said Jo Royle, founder of the charity Common Seas. “We have a right to know what all that plastic is doing to our bodies.” Common Seas, along with more than 80 NGOs, scientists and parliamentarians, is calling on the UK government to allocate £15 million for research into the impacts of plastic on human health. The EU is already funding research into the impact of microplastics on fetuses and babies, and on the immune system.

The effects must be known

A recent study found that microplastics can adhere to the outer membranes of red blood cells and limit their ability to transport oxygen. The particles have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women and in pregnant rats they quickly travel through the lungs to the heart, brain and other organs of the fetus.

A new artículo de revision publicado el martes, jointly with Vethaak, evaluated the risk of cancer and concluded: they do.” and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed, especially in light of the exponential increase in plastic production. The problem is becoming more urgent every day.

By Damien Carrington. Articles in English

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