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Human lungs. Credit: Wikipedia

More news about microplastics (tiny plastic particles) and where they are showing up in humans. Yesterday's post was about microplastics showing up in human blood, and today's post is about a study finding microplastics deep in the lungs of living people.

Yes, not only do we ingest microplastics in our food and water (especially from water bottles), but we also inhale microplastics in the air. This is worrisome because microplastics accumulate in the body, and at this point long term effects are unknown.

Our bodies are not filtering and getting rid of many of the plastic microparticles that we ingest or breathe in (yes, some also get excreted in our feces). No one thinks this is good, and some early study results are showing harm. Some concerns include inflammation, increased risk of cancer, alterations of the microbiome, endocrine disrupting effects from the chemicals in the microplastics.

The 13 people in the study were undergoing surgery (that's a good time to take samples of lung tissue) in the UK. Samples from 11 people found microplastics, with the most common being polypropylene (in plastic packaging and pipes) and PET (in bottles). The images of microparticles in the lung tissue samples are actually horrifying because it is clear they do not belong there!

By the way, some earlier studies also found microplastics in human lungs. Microplastics are a result of plastic breaking down or shedding tiny particles.

Excerpts from The Guardian: Microplastics found deep in lungs of living people for first time

Microplastic pollution has been discovered lodged deep in the lungs of living people for the first time. The particles were found in almost all the samples analysed.  ...continue reading "Microplastics Found Deep In the Lungs of People"

Tiny particles of plastic, called microplastics, have now been detected in human blood. Yikes! We all know that plastic pollution is a serious problem in the environment, but recent research has been finding it in our food, in the air, in water, in rain, our organs (including our lungs and brain), human placentas, and now in our blood.

The most widely found microplastic particles in the blood were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (commonly used in disposable water bottles), and polystyrene (PS), which is used for food packaging and polystyrene foam.

The big question is: What are microplastics doing to us, if anything?

The first studies are finding that microplastics are causing inflammation and damage to cells (not good), and are building up in us, but we don't really know much at all. Will it increase the risk of cancer? Scientists are also concerned over the chemicals in the microplastics. For example, if there are endocrine disrupting chemicals in the microplastics, then what effect (if any) are they having on us?

But... plastic production is increasing every year, so we can expect to be exposed to more plastic over time, which means more will get into us and the environment. And the particles will build up.

You may wonder why there are so many little plastic particles out there - it's because plastic breaks apart over time. Even when we do laundry - there are little plastic particles released into the drain water from synthetic fabrics. When we drink from plastic water bottles, little plastic particles released from the bottles are ingested by us. And yes, water bottles are a big source of microplastics ingested by us - up to an additional 90,000 microplastics per year!

Bottom line: try to cut back on your use of plastic, which means buying less of plastic goods - for example, in beverage containers (opt for glass bottles instead), in furniture and toys, in our homes (wood or tile instead of vinyl as much as possible). Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles.

From Smithsonian: Microplastics Detected in Human Blood in New Study

Microplastics, or tiny plastic particles, are ubiquitous pollutants found almost everywhere on earth. Scientists have detected microplastics near the peak of Mount Everest, in the Mariana Trench and even in baby poop. But researchers have now found a new vessel for microplastics: human blood. ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Found In Human Blood"

Something to ponder: Are tiny plastic particles (microplastics) that enter the human body traveling to the brain and causing harm? An article by the science writer Erica Cirino examines that question by looking at existing research and comes to the disturbing conclusion of: Yes, they are.

Yes, that plastic particles are inhaled or ingested (in food, water, and air), that many are excreted, but some travel to organs in the body, are absorbed in the bloodstream, and some eventually cross into the brain. Research in fish shows that this ultimately results in abnormal (dysfunctional) behavior. [Note: she is the author of the book Thicker Than Water, which addresses the plastics pollution problem.]

One problem is that plastic particles contain all the chemicals in the original plastic, which includes endocrine (hormone) disruptors.  Another is that the plastic particles accumulate once they are in the organs. Yes, studies find plastic particles in humans (e.g., the placenta, the lungs, and other tissues) and also that many microparticles are excreted in feces. But much is still unknown.

A study by Canadian researchers estimated that the consumption of microplastics by Americans ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex) each year. When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water). Yikes!

Since more and more plastics are entering the environment each year, then this does not bode well for humans. We need to deal with plastic pollution!

Excerpts from an article by Erica Cirino in The Scientist: Opinion: Plastic Pollution May Endanger Brains

In 1950, 2 million metric tons of plastic were produced globally; in 2015, petro-chemical companies churned out 381 million metric tons. Most plastic waste—more than 6.3 billion metric tons of it has been generated by humans over the last 80 years—is never recycled. And to scientists’ best knowledge, petroleum-based plastic will never biodegrade. Instead, it breaks up into ever-smaller particles that always remain plastic.  ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Entering Our Bodies"

Microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, have now been found in human placentas. To find tiny plastic particles on both sides of the placenta (the baby's side and the mother's side), as well as in the placental membranes, is an alarming finding! Why is this occurring? And are they causing harm to the developing fetus?

First, it is important to realize that we are surrounded by plastic in products that we use, and also in our environment. Eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the oceans and rivers, indoor air, and the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. The particles get into us, and while some is excreted in the feces, they also get into our organs.

The Italian researchers examined small portions of 6 human placentas (from normal pregnancies) and found a total of 12 plastic particles in 4 of the placentas. The researchers said that all the particles were "pigmented" (colored), with 3 being tiny polypropylene pieces, and the other 9 could only be identified as pigments (e.g. from man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, cosmetics, and personal care products).

Human placenta. Credit: Wikipedia

The researchers did not know how the plastic particles entered the mother's blood stream and so got into the placenta - whether it was from the mother's respiratory system (breathed in) or the gastrointestinal system (from ingested foods). They thought that differences in foods eaten and lifestyles might result in why four placentas had plastic particles and two others not.

A big concern with microplastics in humans, especially developing fetuses, is that they can contain substances that can act as endocrine (hormone) disruptors and so could cause long-term effects on human health. Will they have an effect on the developing immune system? At this point we do not know. We have many questions and studies are needed.

What should one do to lower exposure to plastic particles? There are many things one can do. Especially important is to no longer drink bottled water or other beverages in plastic bottles, or store or cook food in plastic containers. List of tips on how to lower exposure to plastics and the harmful chemicals in them - Avoiding Harmful Chemicals

Excerpts from The Guardian - Microplastics revealed in the placentas of unborn babies

Microplastic particles have been revealed in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which the researchers said was “a matter of great concern”. ...continue reading "Tiny Plastic Particles Found In Human Placentas"

It turns out that plastic baby bottles shed millions of tiny plastic particles (microplastics) into the breast milk, formula, or water in them. At this point we don't really know what ingesting multitudes of microplastics every day does to a person, but assume that it is not beneficial and we should try to lower how much we ingest. (Microplastics are turning up in foods and water, especially bottled water - we are ingesting them, excreting them, and there is some concerning health research.)

Trinity College researchers found that the greatest number of microplastics are shed into the baby bottle contents when polypropylene bottles are heated, especially during bottle sterilization. The research team estimated that current guidelines for infant bottle sterilization and formula preparation result in an average daily ingestion by European and American babies of more than 2 million microplastics every day! Yikes!

What to do? Absolute best would be to use glass baby bottles - no plastic there. But if plastic baby bottles are used: 1) first sterilize the bottles. 2) Then rinse the sterilized bottles 3 times in water that has been sterilized (boiled and cooled) in a stainless steel or glass pot. 3) Same with the formula - heat in a non-plastic container (glass or stainless steel) and then pour it into the plastic baby bottle.

Also: do not heat formula in plastic containers or microwave ovens. Do not vigorously shake the formula in the bottle at any time. Do not use sonication to clean plastic baby bottles.

Shedding of microplastics is a property of plastic polypropylene bottles, and the hotter the bottle - the more is shed. Shaking also releases microplastics. The only way to avoid the problem of microplastics in the formula or other liquid is to use glass baby bottles.

From The Scientist: Baby Bottles Can Shed Millions of Microplastic Particles: Study

Plastic has long been a major source of pollution in landfills and in oceans, especially as it degrades into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters, termed “microplastics.” Experimental studies have shown that these particles and the cocktail of chemicals they carry can wreak havoc on physiology, reproduction, development, and behavior in a number of nonhuman species.  ...continue reading "Plastic Baby Bottles Shed Tiny Plastic Particles"

We use so much plastic that we are now surrounded by plastic. But eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. A few years ago researchers even found microplastics in the feces of people - meaning they ingested microplastics, which traveled through the intestines, and then eventually excreted.

But the big question remained: Do some microplastics get absorbed into human tissues?

Two Arizona State University researchers looked into this and found small parts of plastics (plastic monomers) in the tissues of every single person examined. They analyzed 47 human tissue samples (using mass spectrometry) taken from deceased persons who had donated their bodies to science. All had plastic particles in the lungs and adipose (fat) tissue. For example, they found BPA (bisphenol A - an endocrine disruptor) in every single sample. Other examples of plastic particles found were polypropylene and polysterene.

Currently it is unknown if there are health consequences from plastic particles being absorbed into our tissues. However, wildlife and animal research has linked microplastic and nanoplastic exposure to infertility, inflammation, and cancer. Once plastic is absorbed by tissues, it will stay there - it will not biodegrade. Whether there are human health effects is a very important issue because more and more plastic is produced each year, which means exposure to more plastic particles over time, and accumulation in our bodies.

Note that microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in diameter (many can be seen by the human eye), while nanoplastics are even smaller with diameters of less than 0.050 millimeters (these can not be seen by the human eye).

Excerpts from an American Chemical Society press release about research presented to the American Chemical Society in August 2020: Micro- and nanoplastics detectable in human tissues

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2020 — Plastic pollution of land, water and air is a global problem. Even when plastic bags or water bottles break down to the point at which they are no longer an eyesore, tiny fragments can still contaminate the environment. Animals and humans can ingest the particles, with uncertain health consequences. Now, scientists report that they are among the first to examine micro- and nanoplastics in human organs and tissues.   ...continue reading "Plastic Particles Detected in Human Lungs and Other Tissues"

It turns out that it rains tons and tons of tiny pieces of plastic each year! These tiny pieces of plastic, called microplastics, are carried like dust in the wind and  air currents around the earth, and eventually come down like dust. Or particles from nearby urban areas can come down in rain, storms, and snow.

Researchers from a study looking at dust and rainwater samples in 11 western United States parks estimate that more than 1000 tons of this stuff fall each year just on this area alone. They estimate that 4% of the dust deposited on the land had microplastics in them, and nearly all samples had microplastics in them. The researchers found that an average of "132 plastics per square meter" was deposited each day. Yikes!

Where does it come from? Most of the microparticles were microfibers that came from synthetic textiles used for clothing (shed when worn or from washing, drying) and carpeting. But also industrial processes, outdoor equipment, industrial paints and coatings). Since plastics are persistant, they break up into little pieces over time and become microplastics.

Which means tons and tons more of these microplastics are falling on the rest of the United States and world, including us. How much are we breathing in? And what, if anything, is it doing to us?

So far studies have found microplastics in foods, drinking water, estimates of humans ingesting more than 74,000 microplastics each year, that we are breathing them in, and that they are found in human stool . Also, it is known that microplastics can accumulate and harm wildlife, and can move up the food chain.

It doesn't look good for us as plastic production (348 million metric tons of plastic produced worldwide in 2017) and plastics in the environment keep increasing. We need to address this problem. Now.

Excerpts from a good article on this study: A threat from above: Plastic rains down on US National Parks and Wilderness areas

Last August, scientists delivered the chilling news that microplastics suspended in the Earth's atmosphere were being deposited in remote areas of the Arctic and Europe. Now researchers report similar microplastic accumulation in iconic American protected areas including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.  ...continue reading "It’s Raining Microplastics"

There have been a number of studies finding microplastics (tiny bits of plastic smaller than 5mm) in seafood, drinking water, many foods, as well as in the air we breathe (e.g. from the breakdown of vehicle tires and brakes during normal use). There has been some concern over what the microplastics are doing to us because so little research has been done. But there is worry that the smallest sized microplastics are entering our bodies, traveling to different organs, and causing damage. But at least some of the microplastics we ingest are traveling through the gastrointestinal system  and then excreted in our stool, according to a recent study.

The study had 8 healthy volunteers from Europe and Asia (United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Netherlands, Finland, and Austria). keep a food dairy for a week, and then "donate" a stool sample which was analyzed. None of the volunteers were vegetarians, and 6 had consumed fish from oceans in that week. [Note: Studies find that seafood contains microplastics.]

The  stool samples were analyzed for 10 types of plastic. All the stool samples contained microplastics, with polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate being the most abundant. The samples contained an average of 20 microplastic particles per 10 g of stool. Since 9 types of plastic was detected in the stool, the researchers say that means they come from multiple sources.

Recently Canadian researchers estimated that annual consumption of microplastics ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex). When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water). Yikes!

What to do if this concerns you? Since plastic wrappers, containers, and bottles (including water bottles) shed microplastics, then one can try to purchase and store foods in plain cardboard or glass containers. Stainless steel containers are also OK (NOTE: aluminum cans are usually coated with suspect chemicals). Definitely drink more tap water, and less bottled water.

From Medical Xpress: Microplastics detected in human stool   ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Found In Human Stool"

We love plastic, and use plastics in basically everything. However, with time and wear and tear, plastics are worn down, and little plastic microparticles are released into the air. These microplastics are less than 5 mm (millimeters) long - about the size of a sesame seed or less. Studies are finding them everywhere, including our drinking water, in seafood, all sorts of foods, the dust, and the air in our homes and workplaces. And of course microplastics wind up in our bodies (whether ingesting them through food and beverages, or breathing them in so that they go to the lungs). No one really knows what effects they have on human health, but studies are starting to find harms to animal health.

Well...  now there is another cause for concern. A new study finds more than expected amounts of microplastic particles in remote parts of the world (the Alps and Arctic!) where no one expected to find them in large amounts. The German researchers report that the main types of plastic microparticles they found were from varnish, rubber, polyethylene, and polyamide (nylon). The particles are transported through the atmosphere by winds and air currents. View it as air pollution. Bottom line: As humans continue to use more and more plastics, and more gets released into the air, this means we all will absorb more and more microplastics with still unknown impacts on health.  Ultimately we all will have to address this issue.

Excerpts from The Atlantic: A Worrisome Discovery in High Arctic Snowfall

In just the past decade, scientists have discovered that microplastics—defined as any plastic detritus that’s about the size of a sesame seed or smaller—are a major new pollutant, the spread of which we’re only now understanding. Microplastics are present in 94 percent of tap water in the United Statesaccording to one study. They form as larger plastic items—toys, clothing, paint chips, car tires—get worn down and torn to shreds ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Found Even In Arctic Snow"

Did you know that you are eating teeny tiny bits of plastic in your food every day? And inhaling the pieces floating in the air? These tiny bits of plastic are called microplastics, and are from all the plastic breaking down (degrading) in the environment. They have entered the food chain (e.g. from fish and other animals ingesting bits of plastic, food preparation, or from plastic packaging), and in this way we are also ingesting microplastics. They vary in shape and size, but some pieces can be so small that they can only be seen with a microscope.

The problem is that microplastics can enter our body several ways (through ingestion get into the gut and so get into human tissues, or through inhalation into the lungs). They could trigger an immune response, or the plastic could release chemicals, such as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, the health effects from microsplastic ingestion are unknown.

A study by Canadian researchers looked at all available evidence from 26 studies to try to get some idea of how many microparticles of plastic Americans ingest over one year. The researchers estimate that annual consumption of microplastics ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex). When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water).

These numbers are for about microplastics found only in certain foods (fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, honey, alcohol) that add up to about 15% of the diet. But the number of microplastics in other foods (such as fruits, vegetables, meats, grains) have not been studied. The researchers point out that we ingest microplastics that are in the air and settle on our food during meal preparation and during meals. So the actual numbers of microplastics that are ingested each year are certain to be much higher! [Microplastics are even in our house dust.]

What can one do to lower the number of microplastics that we eat? Number one, drink tap water or bottled water in glass bottles, and less water from plastic bottles. Since no one knows about how many plastic particles are in other foods, one possibility may be to eat more foods and beverages that come in glass containers, rather than plastic containers. As the researchers point out, microplastic research is still in its infancy. They also felt that since this study only looked at certain foods, then they really underestimated how many microplastics Americans ingest each year.

From Science Daily: Americans consumer 70,000 particles of microplastics per year    ...continue reading "Americans Ingest More Than 74,000 Microplastic Particles Each Year"