Microplastics in the blood, what are the risks for humans and the consequences for health

by Domenico Guarino

We now have confirmation: the tiny fragments of plastic scattered in the environment, commonly known as ‘microplastics‘, they can end with some blood and come into circulation in the Human body. This is demonstrated by research carried out by the working group led by ecotoxicologist Heather Leslie and chemist Marja Lamoree, as part of the Immunoplast project at the Vrije University of Amsterdam. The results were published in Environment International magazine.

Research from the University of Amsterdam has confirmed that tiny pieces of plastic can end up in the blood and enter the human body

The survey was based on blood tests given by 22 anonymous peoplein which they were sought traces of five polymers (the elementary components of plastics) and for each of them the levels present in the blood were measured. The result leaves no doubt: in three quarters of the samples examined were present traces of plasticAbove all polyethylene terephthalate (the Petcommonly used for plastic bottles and clothing) and styrene dolimers, often used in vehicle parts, carpets and food containers. On average, 1.6 micrograms of plastic have been measured for every milliliter of blood, with the highest concentration being just over 7 micrograms.

Now, observe the researchers from the Vrije Universiteit, it remains to be seen whether and how easily the plastic particles can pass blood circulation to organs. “This is the first data of its kind and now – said Lamoree chemistry – more will have to be collected to understand the amount of microplastics present in the human body and how dangerous they can be. Thanks to the new data, it will be possible to establish whether exposure to microplastics poses a threat to public health”.

Microplastics in the blood, what consequences for health

There is still little information about the impact of microplastics on animal and human health. THE polymersin general, they are chemically inert and therefore considered nontoxic. However, the small size and large surface area results in microplastics, and more nanoplasticsgreater reactivity than the compounds from which they are derived, making them potentially harmful to organisms depending on the type of exposure and sensitivity.
According to the Superior Institute of Health (ISS) risks for humans from microplastics can be nature physics, chemistry Where microbiological.

Microplastics that enter our metabolism can damage our systems

Physical risks are due to the small size of microplastics (and even nanoplastics) which “can cross biological barriers – such as the gut, blood-brain, testicles and even the placenta – and cause direct damagein particular torespiratory system and todigestive systemas the first devices that microplastics come into contact with”.

Chemical risks instead “they derive from the presence of contaminants, such as plasticizers (phthalates, bisphenol A) or persistent contaminants (brominated flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls) present in microplastics”. Many of them, being endocrine disruptors, “can damage system endocrinecause problems to reproductive sphere et al metabolism both in children of parents who have been exposed to microplastics for pregnancyboth in adulthood following exposure and in the early stages of life (neonatal, childhood, puberty)”.

In addition, microplates can carry causative microorganisms attached to their surface diseases: bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Bacillus cereus And Stenotrophomonas maltophilia have been detected in microplastics collected off the coast of Belgium.

According to the OECD, to reverse the trend of environmental pollution, it is necessary, among other things, to create a separate and functional market for recycled plastic.

What happens to microplastics in the body?

Currently, there are few data on the fate of microplastics in digestive tract. The available data relate only to absorption and distribution but the processes of transformation (metabolic) and elimination are not yet known. According to what the ISS still indicates, only the smallest microplastics, with a size of less than 150 micrometers, seem to be able to cross the intestinal barrier, although the absorption is still considered to be very low (less than or equal to 0, 3%). “Transition to other organs only seems possible for a limited fraction, smaller than 1.5 micrometers. However, experimental studies have shown that once absorbed, microplastics accumulate in liver, kidneys And intestine with the ability to cause oxidative stress, metabolic problems, inflammatory processes, as well as damage to the immune and neurological systems,” explains the Higher Institute of Health.

Finally, to assess the negative effects of microplastics, it is necessary to take into account the presence of chemical substances present in them or attached to their surface, the release of which in the body represents a potential health risk, and possible pathogenic organisms. A big problem since plastic is a material used in all sectors of production and human activity (automotive, agriculture, health, building/construction, packaging, fabrics, toys, etc.) and is produced in different sizes depending on end use. . Not to mention that, according to the most accredited estimates, it is expected that plastic waste present in the oceans will double quantity by 2040.

Unsurprisingly, another recent study signed, among others, by researcher A. Dick Vethaak, who wanted to investigate the relationship between exposure to microplastics and the risk of developing Cancer, stressed the urgency of continuing this research. “It is certainly reasonable to worry – said Vethaak -. The particles are there in the blood and are transported throughout the body. We also know that in general, infants and young children they are more vulnerable to exposure to chemicals and particles. It worries me a lot.”

The European Commission’s proposal to limit the use of microplastics

The European Commission has asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to assess the available data in order to present a proposal to limit the use of primary microplastics in consumer products such as beauty products, detergents And fertilizers. Once approved, the restriction will reduce microplastic emissions by around 400,000 tonnes over the next 20 years. In view of this objective, in Italy, from January 1, 2020, the sale and marketing of rinse-off cosmetics, such as soaps, creams, exfoliating gels and toothpastes, containing microplastics is prohibited.

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