• Sam Nash

Our Bodies Consume a Credit Card’s Worth of Plastic Every Week

Researchers have discovered the presence of substantial quantities of microplastics in all organs of donated human cadavers, with the majority of deposits being found in livers, kidneys, lungs and spleens.


Rolf Halden, Arizona State University Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, states, “We have detected these chemicals of plastics in every single organ that we have investigated.”


This would suggest that our organs are not only struggling to remove these microscopic particles of inorganic substances, but they are also susceptible to harm from their presence. Plastic residues often contain chemicals which are known carcinogens, which if left to accrue, can trigger mutations at a cellular level, ultimately leading to cancer.


Plastic pellets — Source — Pixabay



In addition to this, the mechanical properties of these unyielding microparticles can have a deleterious impact on the structure and function of organs in a similar way to asbestos particles. Abrasion or micro-scratches can cause severe irritation and inflammation leading to long term damage.


Most medical researchers have known about the dangers of plastics in our lives for some time, focusing studies on the impact on a wide range of health issues, including diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction and fertility. Halden and his team analysed 47 samples in his study to look into the presence of particles so small, that they could transfer from the digestive system into the bloodstream. They also looked at where they travelled within the body.


Plastics are classed as micro when they are smaller than 5millimetres in diameter, but Halden and his colleagues looked at particles that were as small as 1 micron, which is 0.001mm. For the sake of comparison, the width of a human hair is approximately 50 microns.


A previous study by Dianna Cohen, CEO of the non-profit Plastic Pollution Coalition, claimed that on average, every person ingests about 5 grams of plastic every week, or the equivalent of a credit card. With Halden’s new technique for capturing and measuring smaller particles, that figure is likely to increase.


Halden’s intention is to create an ‘atlas of human pollution’, starting with the development of an online calculator aimed at other research scientists who have a need to quantify plastic contamination within specific volumes of research tissue. At present, his study is deemed preliminary, but he hopes to secure support to expand the research further. His goal is to give us all a better understanding of how our environment may be contributing to long term ill health on a microscopic level.


Plastic pollution on a beach — Source — Pixabay



He also states that it’s practically impossible to avoid exposure to microplastics, since they are present in tap, sea and bottled water, in the air we breathe, and many of the foods we eat. According to a study published just last week in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, samples of oysters, prawns, squid, crabs, and sardines, all contained plastic contaminants (University of Exeter, UK, and University of Queensland, Australia).


If plastics are absorbed into our bloodstream, then they will also be present in plants and farm animals too. That means that we are all at risk, whether we are vegan, fruitarian, carnivore or otherwise.


There are ways to reduce our exposure to microplastics which only take a little thought and forward planning, including using ceramic, glass or stainless-steel bottles and cups, buying ingredients not wrapped in plastic, and choosing reusable products and containers wherever possible. It’s also worth noting that many teabags on the market that appear to be made from paper, are supplemented with plastic materials which are cheaper to use, thus increasing profit margins. It’s always a good idea to check the websites of the brand you prefer, or go back to old fashioned and much tastier tea leaves in china pots for your morning cuppa.


Tea bag in glass cup — Source — Pixabay



While those suggestions are common-sense, it’s harder to reduce exposure to polluted air and food, unless you are in a position to grow your own crops in an isolated corner of the world.


A recent national campaign in the UK helped to shame the toiletries, cosmetics, and cleaning material manufacturers to limit use of microplastics in their products. We now need to take that further to protect both ourselves and nature from the toxic consequences of non-biodegradable particles that will cause ill health for decades to come.


If we all do our bit to avoid plastics as consumers, the manufacturers will be compelled to alter their practices. We can also help by spreading the word until it becomes a world-wide issue of such importance that global leaders are forced to take action at a political level. Until that time, let’s hope that more scientists speak out with concrete proof of how pollution is impacting the quality of our lives.

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