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Microplastics have started leeching into our bloodstreams

Plastic particles were found in the blood of nearly 80% of the participants in a new study

03 April 2022 - 00:00
Plastic pollution is putting a new spin on the saying 'You are what you eat'.
Plastic pollution is putting a new spin on the saying 'You are what you eat'.
Image: 123RF/melnyk58

For years we’d been warned about the disastrous level of plastic pollution. Then came the first reports of microplastics being detected in the Mariana Trench — the deepest part of the ocean — in 2018. In 2020 microplastics were discovered near the peak of Mount Everest and in 2020 we learnt that baby poop also contains the stuff.

It seems microplastics are leeching into every facet of our environment. And now they've been discovered in human blood.

According to a study published in the journal Environment International in March, plastic particles were found in nearly 80% of the study participants.

The team of researchers studied the blood samples of 22 anonymous donors — all healthy adults — and found plastic particles measuring as little as 0.0007mm in 17 participants.

According to the authors of the study, the plastic particles they detected in the participants were likely ingested or inhaled. It is also possible for these plastic particles to be transported into our organs via our bloodstream.

Nanoplastics, which are smaller than one micrometre, may be inhaled, they argue, and accumulate in the lungs. Larger particles may be coughed up, swallowed and absorbed by the gut.

The culprits? The authors say these plastic particles are most likely delivered through everyday things that enter our bodies through the air, water and food. Even our ingestible personal-care products, such as toothpaste and lip gloss, may be to blame.

PET plastics (the type of plastic used in manufacturing many water and soft-drink bottles) accounted for 50% of the plastic encountered in the study and PS and PE plastics (both widely used for the packaging of food and various products) for 36% and 23% respectively.

More research on the topic is needed as the authors don’t know for how long these plastic particles will remain in the bloodstream or if this is potentially harmful, but my hunch is that it seems safe to assume — contrary to Aqua’s hit, circa 1997 — that plastic life is not going to turn out to be so very fantastic.