Scientists in the Netherlands have used novel analytical tools to produce the first evidence of plastic particles being absorbed into the bloodstream.
The plastics in the environment are turned into microplastic due to breakdown from external factors. Microplastics are complicated to find and treat because scientists cannot easily track their path through the environment and because they can be absorbed by living organisms.
Microplastics have been found to be extremely destructive for marine life. We also now know that they make their way into the human body, with studies on human tissue and stool finding plastic particles in every sample.
The scientists used mass spectrometry to inspect human blood for tiny plastic particles.
This technique was applied to samples from 22 healthy donors with the scientists on the lookout for five different polymers that are considered the building blocks of plastic. Three-quarters of the subjects were found to have plastic particles in the blood. The average concentration was 1.6 micrograms per milliliter, around a teaspoon of plastic to every 1,000 liters of water.
“We have now proven that our bloodstream, our river of life as it were, has plastic in it,” said Heather Leslie from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene, and polymers of styrene were the most common forms of plastic to turn up in the samples. The plastic’s route to the bloodstream is “likely to be via mucosal contact (either ingestion or inhalation),” the researchers write in their paper, noting that airborne particles between 1 nanometer and 20 micrometers are considered respirable.
It has been proved that plastics can change the shape of human cells and interrupt their functioning. But there is still much to learn about the dangers of plastic particle absorption, with the authors of this new study looking to investigate how these particles might move from the blood into tissues and organs as their next step.
“This dataset is the first of its kind and must be expanded to gain insight into how widespread plastic pollution is in the bodies of humans, and how harmful that may be,” said study author Marja Lamoree. “With this insight we can determine whether exposure to plastic particles poses a threat to public health.”
The research was published in the journal Environment International.