Study reveals for the first time the presence of microplastics in human blood

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What more would it take to worry the world? Today, plastic is ubiquitous in our food production chains and our everyday objects. The waste it generates has dramatic impacts by infiltrating almost everywhere, from our environment to our body. It has even been detected in the placenta of pregnant women, representing a real danger for the babies concerned. Yet the global production of plastics is only increasing every year. A new study published in the journal Science Direct has, for the first time, demonstrated the presence of different types of microplastics in human blood. The revelation worries scientists, who believe it is urgent and imperative to determine how it can affect our cells, especially in carcinogenesis.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UN, due to the growth of emerging markets, the production of plastics in the world has quadrupled in 17 years. This figure will increase further exponentially from here 2030 (from 460 million to 460 million tons), at the rate at which the world overconsumes . Between and 2019, the plastic waste generated reached gigantic proportions (353 million tons), and is directly rejected in our aquatic environments, in wild dumps or in the air (by combustion). The plastic accumulated in the oceans has even given rise to the famous and aberrant “seventh continent” of waste, floating off the Pacific coast.

By contaminating our food , the water we drink and the air we breathe, this plastic waste manages to infiltrate our body. The study by researchers at the Free University of Amsterdam is the first to show that microplastic particles can infiltrate organs via the bloodstream.

Although the direct health impacts are still not entirely clear, scientists are concerned, because in previous tests in vitro, microplastics have been repeatedly shown to damage human cells. Additionally, another study found that microplastics can bind to the cell membranes of red blood cells, limiting their ability to bind to the oxygen molecules they are meant to carry. The plastic would also have succeeded in crossing the placental barrier of pregnant women, thus representing a danger for the fetus.

According to the authors of the study Dutch, previous work has also found that plastic bottle-fed babies ingest millions of microparticles a day. The levels of microplastics were in particular times higher in the stools of babies than in those adults. “ It is certainly reasonable to be concerned, because the particles are there and are transported throughout the body ,” says Dick Vethaak, lead author of the study and professor of ecotoxicology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Especially since “we also know that in general, babies and young children are more vulnerable to exposure to chemicals and particles”, he adds.

Plastic detected in 80% of samples

To arrive at their results, the Dutch researchers analyzed blood samples from 17 anonymous, adult, healthy donors. Steel syringes and glass tubes were used so as not to contaminate the samples, which underwent battery tests detecting up to particles of 0,0007 mm in diameter.

The team then detected plastic in 17 from 22 samples (80%). Half of them contained polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common component of water bottles and various drinks. A third of the samples contained polystyrene, used for example in the manufacture of food trays and shock absorbers for household appliances. The rest of the samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic bags are made. Some of the test subjects therefore had two or three kinds of plastic in their blood. These results are revealing, because the donors were taken at random (from the general population) and the plastics detected are those benefiting from the largest production volumes.

However, the group of researchers points out that the amount and type of plastic varied considerably between blood samples. “ But this is a pioneering study ,” says Vethaak, and more work and more test samples are needed. According to the expert, the differences could probably be explained by short-term exposure (e.g. drinking coffee from a plastic cup or wearing a plastic mask) before the blood samples were taken.

The authors of the study also believe that it would be urgent to know how the plastic microparticles move in the body and if they can penetrate into noble organs, crossing, for example, the blood-brain barrier. It will also determine whether the levels are high enough to affect the structure and metabolism of our cells, and cause diseases such as cancer.

Source: Science Direct