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Microplastics affects human health as well as the environment

Microplastics update: health impacts and warnings over food and water

Microplastics: what’s the latest when it comes to our health?

It’s only recently that scientists have begun to understand how widely and deeply microplastics infiltrate our bodies, and how they impact our health. This blog post has all the information you need, including which foods and drinks are most affected and how you can protect your health.

Before you read any further: we will update this blog post with more information in the future. So, subscribe to our newsletter for updates. It’s the easiest way to stay informed.

Hang on, what exactly are microplastics?

They’re fragments of plastic smaller than 5mm. Whilst some are deliberately manufactured that small (e.g., cosmetic microbeads), others are pieces of larger plastic that have broken down. Plastic rubbish degrades when it is thrown away, for example single-use plastic packaging and fishing nets in the sea.

Every time you wash synthetic (that is to say, man-made) clothing, tiny plastic strands come away. In this way, they get into the water system. Consequently, 35% of plastic polluting our oceans is clothing fibres. In addition, manufacturing and industry are yet another source of microplastic pollution.

Microplastics break down in the environment and enter our bodies

We’re living in a plastic world.

Plastic pollution is now widespread; it affects every corner of the earth and ocean. It’s in the air, it’s in the rain and even the dust that settles in our homes. Most importantly, it’s in our food and drinking water. Consequently, it’s no exaggeration to say that we’re living in the ‘plasticine’ era, or in a plastic world.

It’s bad enough that microplastic pollution negatively impacts marine life and wildlife. However, microplastics don’t stay out there in the environment, they travel into our bodies through our drinking water, food and the air we breathe.

Pregnant women should avoid microplastics in food and water

What’s the latest news on microplastics in our bodies?

In just the past year or two, scientist have discovered microplastics in:

Breast milk:

In 75% of healthy mothers, a week after giving birth. Meanwhile, Dr Notarstefano, one of the team who conducted the study, said: “it must be stressed that the advantages of breastfeeding are much greater than the disadvantages caused by the presence of polluting microplastics” (Carrington, 07.10.22)

The placentas of unborn babies:

Researchers describe this as “a matter of great concern”. (Ragusa, 2022). That’s because it shows that the placenta doesn’t protect the unborn baby from microplastics in its mother’s body. Similarly, a 2020 study found that the tiny plastic particles in the lungs of pregnant rats passed rapidly into their babies’ hearts, brains and other organs (Fournier, 2020).

Our digestive systems:

Back in 2018, researchers found 9 different types of plastic in the stools of European, Japanese and Russian study participants. And we have recently learnt that babies carry 10-20 times that amount of microplastics in their faeces than adults do (Quaglia, 2021).

Our blood:

77% of subjects in a small 2022 study in the Netherlands “carried a quantifiable mass of plastic particles in their blood” (Leslie, 2022). Researchers commented that:

it is scientifically plausible that plastic particles may be transported to organs via the bloodstream.” (Leslie, 2022)

Microplastics in tap water

Exposure pathways: how do they get into our bodies?

Research in 2021 estimated that people all over the world ingest up to 5 grams of microplastics a week “through various exposure pathways” (Senathirajah, 2021). So let’s examine these one by one:

1. Tap water, bottled water, milk and other beverages.

Researchers found microplastics contaminating 72% of UK tap water samples taken back in 2017 (Carrington, 2017). On the other hand, microplastics were in over 90% of bottled water samples around the world (Walter, 2018). In the same vein, German researchers found plastic fibres in 100% of the 24 brands of beer they sampled (Liebezeit, 2014). And 72% of milk samples taken from supermarket cartons, milk tanks at dairy farms and  similarly, in hand-milked cows, contained microplastics (van de Veen, 2022).

2. Food, including meat, fish, seafood and salt.

When researchers studied Americans’ calorie intake, they estimated people were eating up to 52,000 microplastics a year. However, they warned that the total number was likely much higher, due to the limited nature of their research (Cox, 2019). A recent study in the Netherlands found microplastics in 75% of beef and pork samples (van der Veen, 2022). Moreover, they contaminated 100% of animal pellet feed samples. Consequently, researchers describe microplastics as an:

“invisible potential threat to food safety and security” (Usman, 2020).

3. Leaching from plastic bottles and food containers.
This happens above all when we use them to heat up food and drink. For instance, we know that bottle-fed babies swallow millions of microplastics a day. In 2020, researchers concluded:
“Infant exposure to microplastics is higher than was previously recognized…  and highlights an urgent need to assess whether exposure to microplastics at these levels poses a risk to infant health.” (Li, 2020)
4. Air pollution: outdoor and indoor.

Tiny plastic particles are carried on the wind and rain down on us. They even settle in the dust in our homes. In 2015, French researchers identified outdoor air pollution as an exposure pathway. Moreover, in 2017, researchers found an average of 18 fibres and 4 fragments per litre of rain (Campanale, 2020). What’s more, “significant concentrations” of microplastics were found in indoor dust (Gasperi, 2015).

Microplastics may be causing neurological disease

How do microplastics affect our health?

Scientists link plastics, at the levels we eat and drink, with:

Cell damage and death:

“we should be concerned… harmful effects on cells are in many cases the initiating event for health effects” – Danopoulos, quoted in Carrington 08.12.21)

Inflammation and allergic reactions:

“microplastics are considered as foreign bodies by the host organism and, as such, trigger local immunoreactions” (Ragusa, 2022)

Cancer:

Recent research links long-term exposure to nanoplastics (even smaller than micro) with changes in the carcinogenic process (Barguilla, 2022). And when, in 1998, scientists found microplastics in specimens of cancerous lung tissue, they warned:

“these bioresistant and biopersistent cellulosic and plastic fibers [sic] are candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer.” (Pauly, 1998).

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease:

The American Neurological Association’s 2022 annual conference warned that:

“the astronomical rise in neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s could be caused by exposure to environmental toxins that are omnipresent yet poorly understood” (Lakhani, 2022)

(The conference defined environmental toxins as air pollution, pesticides, microplastics and forever chemicals, amongst others.)

Obesity and diabetes:

Bisphenol A and phthalates (which are used to manufacture plastic) are two examples of ‘obesogens’. That is to say, they contribute to being overweight. Obesogens are a variety of chemicals found in our drinking water and food and they:

“interfere with hormone action, which can lead to altered metabolism and ultimately to obesity” (Lusting, 2022).

Interactions with toxins and pathogens: new health problems.

As you have just read, microplastics themselves are harmful and linked to disease. Moreover, they interact with other harmful substances to create new problems for human and environmental health. For example, they absorb and carry toxic chemicals into the environment and into our bodies. Disappointingly, they also spread disease.

Intestinal viruses, flushed into the waterways by sewage plants survive in water by ‘hitchhiking’ on tiny plastic particles. This helps them stay infectious for longer. Researchers at the University of Stirling describe these plastic life-rafts for microbes as the ‘plastisphere’. They found plastic nurdles washed up on Scottish beaches contained E. coli, which, for swimmers and beachgoers, poses:

“a significant health risk” (Quilliam quoted in McVeigh, 2022).

Indeed, scientists even hypothesised that they could carry cholera across the oceans from one continent to another (McVeigh, 2019).

Intestinal viruses from sewage dumping survive in water by hitchiking on microplasticsIntestinal viruses – flushed into the oceans by sewage dumping – hitchhike on microplastics and pose a danger to swimmers and beachgoers.

Caution and precaution.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned:

“We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water” – Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, WHO (WHO, 2019)

Subsequently, scientists have learned much more about how far microplastics pollute our world and how deeply they travel into our bodies. And, as you have read, researchers now identify links between microplastic exposure and disease. Even so, they warned that we still don’t understand the negative health effects well enough. Therefore it seems clear to us that the precautionary principle has never been more relevant.

What 2 things should you do to protect your health?

Above all, scientists say that ingestion – in other words, eating and drinking – is the major route through which microplastics enter our body (Ragusa, 2022). Fortunately, this is an area of our lives over which we have some control. So, in conclusion, here are 2 suggestions for action you can take today:

1. Avoid buying plastic or plastic-packed products especially food and beverages.

Above all, this is especially important for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, as Dr Notarstefano warns:

“We would like to advise pregnant women to pay greater attention to avoiding food and drink packaged in plastic, cosmetics and toothpastes containing microplastics, and clothes made of synthetic fabrics.” (Notarstefano, V quoted in Carrington 07.10.22)
2. Purify a major source of microplastics exposure: your drinking water.

PureH2O water purifiers remove microplastics from tap water, producing pure water safe, healthy and a real pleasure to drink. At the same time, they remove other environmental pollutions such as pesticides and forever chemicals, which are also associated with health problems.

How to remove microplastics from tap waterPure water is safe, healthy and delicious.

Conclusion

To summarise, microplastics pollute every part of our living world. They contaminate our drinking water and food, and these are the main ways they enter our body. Microplastics are also in dust, the air and in rain.

Scientists have only just begun to understand how deeply and widely microplastics invade our bodies (blood, intestines, lungs, breast milk, babies’ placentas), Similarly, they’re still only in the early stages of identifying how microplastics contribute to disease (inflammation, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).

We hope this blog post has helped you understand the issue. We also hope that we’ve given you reassuring information you can act on to protect your health. The two most important things you can do are: 1) avoid plastic food and drinks containers and 2) remove microplastics from your drinking water with a reverse osmosis water purifier. Pure water is safe and healthy for all the family. It tastes so good and makes hydration really easy!

The best home water purifier that removes microplastics

We have a range of home water purifiers and purification systems for commercial use, So whatever your budget, household size or business size, we have a purifier that’s just right. You can view more details here, and download the PureH2O water purifiers brochure here.

You can contact us with any questions about which purifier is right for you, installation, delivery etc by calling 01483 617000 alternatively email help@pureh2o.co.uk or fill out our contact form. 

RODI+™ water purifier removes microplastics

References

A-F

Barguilla, I et al Long-term exposure to nanoplastics alters molecular and functional traits related to the carcinogenic process, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 438, 2022, 129470, ISSN 0304-3894, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2022.129470. accessed 28.10.22

Campanale C, et al A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Feb 13;17(4):1212. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068600/ accessed 29.10.22

Carrington, D Microplastics cause damage to human cells, study shows Guardian 08.12.21 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/08/microplastics-damage-human-cells-study-plastic accessed 25.09.22

Ccarrington, D Microplastics found in human breast milk for the first time Guardian 07.10.22 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/07/microplastics-human-breast-milk-first-time accessed 25.10.22

Carrington, D Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals Guardian 06.09.17 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals accessed 07.09.17

Cox, K et al Human Consumption of Microplastics, Environmental Science & Technology 2019 53 (12), 7068-7074 accessed 29.10.22

Fournier, S.B., et al Nanopolystyrene translocation and fetal deposition after acute lung exposure during late-stage pregnancy. Part Fibre Toxicol 17, 55 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12989-020-00385-9 accessed 31.10.22

G- L

Gasperi, J et al First overview of microplastics in indoor and outdoor air. 15th EuCheMS International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment, Sep 2015, Leipzig, Germany https://hal-enpc.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01195546 accessed 28.10.22

Lakhani, N Exposure to environmental toxins may be root of rise in neurological disorders Guardian 23.10.22 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/23/environmental-toxins-neurological-disorders-parkinsons-alzheimers accessed 25.10.22

Leslie, A et al Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood, Environment International, Volume 163, 2022, 107199, ISSN 0160-4120 accessed 31.10.22

Li, D et al. Microplastic release from the degradation of polypropylene feeding bottles during infant formula preparation. Nat Food 1, 746–754 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-00171-y accessed 29.01.21

Liebezeit, G & E Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beers, Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A 2014, Vol 31 Issue 9, 1574-1578 accessed 28.10.22

Lustig, R et al Obesity I: Overview and molecular and biochemical mechanisms, Biochemical Pharmacology, Volume 199, 2022, 115012, ISSN 0006-2952  accessed 26.08.22

M-R

McVeigh, K Pathogens hitchhiking on plastics ‘could carry cholera from India to US’ Guardian 11.03.19 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/11/pathogens-hitchhiking-on-plastics-could-carry-cholera-from-india-to-us accessed 25.09.22

McVeigh, K Viruses survive in fresh water by ‘hitchhiking’ on plastic, study find Guardian 27.06.22 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/27/viruses-survive-in-fresh-water-by-hitchhiking-on-plastic-study-finds accessed 28.08.22

Pauly JL, et al Inhaled cellulosic and plastic fibers found in human lung tissue. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1998 May;7(5):419-28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9610792/ accessed 25.08.22

Quaglia, S More microplastics in babies’ faeces than in adults’ – study Guardian 22.09.21 https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/sep/22/more-microplastics-in-babies-faeces-than-in-adults-study accessed 28.10.22

Ragusa, A et al First evidence of microplastics in human placenta, Environment International, Volume 146, 2021,106274, ISSN 0160-4120 accessed 31.10.22

Ragusa A, et al Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breastmilk. Polymers (Basel). 2022 Jun 30;14(13):2700 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9269371/ accessed 31.10.22

S-Z

Senathirajah K, et al Estimation of the mass of microplastics ingested – A pivotal first step towards human health risk assessment. J Hazard Mater. 2021 Feb 15;404(Pt B):124004 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33130380/ accessed 28.10.22

Usman S, et al Microplastics Pollution as an Invisible Potential Threat to Food Safety and Security, Policy Challenges and the Way Forward. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 21;17(24):9591 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33371479/ accessed 28.10.22

van den Veen, I et al Plastic Particles in Livestock Feed, Milk, Meat and Blood, A Pilot Study, Dept of Environment and Health, Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam commissioned by Plastic Soup Foundation 29.04.22 https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Final-Report-pilot-study-plastic-particles-in-livestock-feed-milk-meat-and-blood-SIGNED.pdf accessed 29.10.22

Walter, S Plastic found in most bottled water, triggering World Health Organisation review The Telegraph, 15.03.18  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/14/plastic-now-pervasive-finding-way-bottled-water-investigation/ accessed 16.03.18

WHO, WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution, 19.08.22 https://www.who.int/news/item/22-08-2019-who-calls-for-more-research-into-microplastics-and-a-crackdown-on-plastic-pollution accessed 29.10.22

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