Ground Report | New Delhi: Microplastics in human blood; For the first time, scientists have detected the presence of microplastics in human blood. In a study carried out by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, tiny particles were found in almost 80% of people. The discovery, published in the journal Environment International, also shows that they can move around the body and lodge in organs.
The impact on health is still unknown, but researchers are concerned because, in the laboratory, microplastics cause damage to human cells, in addition to being the main air pollutant, the way they enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year. “Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood. It is a groundbreaking result,” said Professor Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the size of the samples and the number of polymers evaluated.”
In the study, scientists analyzed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors, all healthy adults, finding plastic particles in 17. Half of the samples contained PET plastic – used to make beverage bottles -, the third contained polystyrene, used to package food and other products and a quarter contained polyethene, which plastic bags are made from. “It’s reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told The Guardian. (Microplastics in human blood)
“The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” He added that previous work had already shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in babies’ stools compared to adults. “We also know, in general, that babies and young children are more vulnerable to exposure to chemicals and particles. That worries me a lot.”
The research adapted existing techniques to detect and analyze particles as small as 0.0007 mm. 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 tested background levels of microplastics using blank samples.
Vethaak said the amount and type of plastic varied considerably between blood samples, and these differences may reflect short-term exposure before they were collected, such as drinking a plastic-lined coffee cup or wearing a plastic face mask. “The big question is, what is going on in our bodies?” Vethaak said. “Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, can they pass through the blood-brain barrier? Are these levels high enough to trigger disease? We urgently need to fund more research so we can discover these things.”
The study was funded by the Dutch National Organization for Health Research and Development and Common Seas, a social enterprise working to reduce plastic pollution. “Plastic production is expected to double by 2040,” said Jo Royle, founder of Common Seas. “We have a right to know what all this plastic is doing to our bodies,” she adds. Common Seas, along with more than 80 NGOs, scientists and parliamentarians, are asking the UK government for a €15 million grant for research into the impacts of plastic on human health.
The European Union is already funding research into the impact of moto plastics on fetuses and babies and on the immune system. A recent study found that microplastics can cling to the outer membranes of red blood cells and limit their ability to carry oxygen. The particles have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women and in pregnant rats, which quickly pass into the hearts, brains and other organs of fetuses.
A review article published Tuesday, co-authored by Vethaak, assessed the risk of cancer from these particles. “More detailed research into how micro and nano plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed, especially given the exponential increase in plastic production. The problem is becoming more urgent by the day,” she concluded. (Microplastics in human blood)