An unknowing contamination — microplastics are entering our bodies

According to a study published March 19 in The Scientific Reports, nature,” we create small amounts of microplastic softening smaller plastics in our daily lives when we tear them apart in plastic bags or unscrew plastic packaging such as plastic bottles.

Microplastics are small particles of plastic that are less than 5 mm in length. Microplastic contamination is often thought to come from industrial products, such as exfoliating skin care products, or indirectly from long-term decomposition of larger plastic objects. However, microplastics produced by plastic packaging and containers in everyday life, such as scratching, tearing open, and unscrewing them, have not been fully understood.

An unknowing contamination -- microplastics are entering our bodies

Cheng Fang and colleagues at the University of Newcastle in Australia monitored the process of tearing up chocolate bags, breaking sealing tape and opening plastic bottle caps, and further confirmed the microplastics produced by these processes through chemical testing and microplastics.

It turns out that tearing or breaking can produce microplastics of different shapes and sizes, including fibers, fragments or triangular pieces, ranging in size from a few nanometers to a few millimeters. The most produced are debris and fibers.

The authors estimate that every 300 cm of plastic may produce microplastics of 10 ng to 30 ng (0.00001 mg to 0.00003 mg) when allocated or unscrewed, depending on how it is opened and the conditions of the plastic itself, such as hardness, thickness or density.

The findings also suggest that the risks, potential toxicity, and the way they are ingested may be an additional source of small amounts of microplastics, such as opening plastic bags and plastic bottles, and that further research is needed on human exposure.

Microplastics, which generally refer to plastic particles smaller than 5 mm in size. It comes from a wide range of sources, including a wide range of plastic products such as sanitary products (washtops and braces), textiles and automotive tyres.

Today, scientists have found microplastics in almost all environmental waters, and the number is growing. More worryingly, microplastics are also detected in tap water. In 2017, a survey by an NGO organization in the United States found that microplastic detection rates in tap water worldwide were 83%.

Microplastics can be divided into primary microplastics and secondary microplastics from sources: the former refers to a variety of artificial industrial plastic products, such as toothpaste, hairspray, cleansing milk and airborne fresheners in the particles, these microplastics will be with the discharge of domestic sewage and other channels into the surrounding environment; Chemical and biological processes are broken up.

Studies have shown that these microplastics can be ingested by aquatic and marine life, which in the first place can cause physical harm to the organismite themselves, such as blocking their feeding aids and digestive tracts, creating pseudo-satiety, etc., and, because microplastics are not easily degraded and lightweight and durable, making them easy to transfer in the food chain, exposing more animals to harmful substances. For example, toxic monomer additives in plastics and their accumulation of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals from the surrounding environment.

The results show that the average concentration of microplastics in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River is about 500,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer. And from the Mariana Trench to the Frozen Antarctic Sphere, scientists have found microplastics. In addition, some of the more remote water bodies, such as lakes in Tibet, Qinghai and other places, have also detected different concentrations of microplastics.

Microplastics are coming into our bodies.

At the 2018 European Society for Gastroenterology, researchers reported that for the first time, up to nine microplastics in human feces were detected in diameters between 50 and 500 microns. The study showed that plastic eventually reaches the body’s stomach.

According to the logs provided by the eight different countries involved in the study, they all ate plastic-wrapped food and drank bottled water, six of whom ate seafood. Each 10 g of fecal sample contains 20 particles, the most common of which are polypropylene (PP) and polyparahyl acetate (PET), which are the main components of plastic bottles and caps.

An unknowing contamination -- microplastics are entering our bodiesAn unknowing contamination -- microplastics are entering our bodies

Experts say it is not clear where these microplastics are from, and whether they can remain in the human body requires further research. But it’s worth noting that the smallest microplastics can enter the blood, lymphatic system and even the liver, and microplastics in the gut can also affect the digestive system’s immune response.

Microplastics can cause physical damage to organs, and the toxic chemicals they filter out, such as endocrine disruptor BPA and pesticides, can also disrupt immune function and harm the growth and reproduction of organisms. Microplastics and toxic substances can also accumulate in the food chain, with potential impacts on the entire ecosystem, such as the health of the soil. In addition, microplastics in air and water can also directly affect humans.

An unknowing contamination -- microplastics are entering our bodies

A previously published study showed that fish exposed to microplastics reduced reproduction, as did their offspring when they were not directly exposed to microplastics. This suggests that microplastics can affect the reproduction of species. There is also evidence that varying degrees of microplastic intake are associated with the occurrence of blood clots, cancer and lung disease.

Perhaps we don’t know exactly how toxic microplastics enter the human body will be. How small amounts of microplastics can be harmful? But what is certain is that the world we live in has been infiltrated by microplastics, and microplastic pollutants are everywhere.

Just as PM2.5 pollution was particularly concerned in previous years, perhaps it’s time to focus on microplastic pollution.