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New Method Finds Microplastics In All Placentas

The bad news about microplastics in the environment and in all of us keeps coming. A recent study found microplastics in all human placentas, with the numbers of microplastics increasing over recent years. This is very concerning because at this point it is unknown what effects the microplastics are having on pregnancies and developing babies.

Microplastics are the teeny, tiny plastic particles (less than 5mm or .20 inches in length) that are a result of plastics breaking up over time.

A recently published study reported how researchers came up with a new method of measuring the number and amount of microplastics found in the placenta. Rather than just examining the placenta under a microscope and counting particles (other studies), they developed a new method (involving pyrolysis-gas chromatography and mass spectrometry) that reveals a more accurate number.

In the study, all 62 placentas tested contained microplastics in varying amounts - from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue. The main types of microplastics found were polyethylene (plastic bags and bottles) in nearly all samples, followed by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon.

Unfortunately, we know that all of us will have increasing amounts of microplastics in our bodies over time because plastic use is increasing throughout the world. We are ingesting them in our foods and beverages (especially bottled water), absorbing them through our skin, and breathing them in.

What you can do: Try to minimize your use of plastics, especially plastic water bottles. Choose alternatives whenever possible. For example, glass and stainless steel are OK and do not shed microplastics. Think glass bottles and bowls for foods and beverages, not plastic bottles and containers.

From Science Daily: Microplastics found in every human placenta tested

A flurry of recent studies has found that microplastics are present in virtually everything we consume, from bottled water to meat and plant-based food. Now, University of New Mexico Health Sciences researchers have used a new analytical tool to measure the microplastics present in human placentas.

In a study published February 17 in the journal Toxicological Sciences, a team led by Matthew Campen, PhD, Regents' Professor in the UNM Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, reported finding microplastics in all 62 of the placenta samples tested, with concentrations ranging from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue.

Although those numbers may seem small (a microgram is a millionth of a gram), Campen is worried about the health effects of a steadily rising volume of microplastics in the environment.

In the study, Campen and his team, partnering with colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine and Oklahoma State University, analyzed donated placenta tissue.

In a process called saponification, they chemically treated the samples to "digest" the fat and proteins into a kind of soap. Then, they spun each sample in an ultracentrifuge, which left a small nugget of plastic at the bottom of a tube. Next, using a technique called pyrolysis, they put the plastic pellet in a metal cup and heated it to 600 degrees Celsius, then captured gas emissions as different types of plastic combusted at specific temperatures.

"The gas emission goes into a mass spectrometer and gives you a specific fingerprint," Campen said.

The researchers found the most prevalent polymer in placental tissue was polyethylene, which is used to make plastic bags and bottles. It accounted for 54% of the total plastics. Polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC) and nylon each represented about 10% of the total, with the remainder consisting of nine other polymers.

Marcus Garcia, PharmD, a postdoctoral fellow in Campen's lab who performed many of the experiments, said that until now, it has been difficult to quantify how much microplastic was present in human tissue.

With the new analytical method, he said, "We can take it to that next step to be able to adequately quantify it and say, 'This is how many micrograms or milligrams,' depending on the plastics that we have."

While microplastics are already present in our bodies, it is unclear what health effects they might have, if any. Traditionally, plastics have been assumed to be biologically inert, but some microplastics so small they are measured in nanometers -- a billionth of a meter -- and are capable of crossing cell membranes, he said.

Campen said the growing concentration of microplastics in human tissue might explain puzzling increases in some types of health problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer in people under 50, as well as declining sperm counts.

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