2 August 2022
Present in the environment and at the centre of numerous studies and scientific research, micro- and nanoplastics – microplastics are fragments smaller than five millimetres in diameter while nanoplastics are even smaller particles – are the result of the flaking process of plastics that, during the deterioration phase, release tiny fragments of matter that, spreading through the air, contaminate practically every environment, from the seabed to mountain peaks, without sparing foodstuffs.
Until recently, we believed that contamination mainly concerned the environment, but a recent study by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, published in ‘Environment International’, has revealed that micro-particles of plastics in the air are also deposited in human blood.
It was research conducted in the Netherlands and coordinated by the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam that demonstrated the presence of plastic traces in the blood of humans. Analysing the blood of 22 anonymous donors, the researchers focused on the search for five different polymers, the molecules of which plastics are made, and for each of them the levels present in the blood were measured.
The results show that traces of plastics were present in the blood of three quarters of the subjects and that the most abundant material was Pet (polyethylene terephthalate), of which bottles are made. Also very common was polystyrene used in packaging, followed by polymethyl methacrylate, also known as Plexiglas. On average, 1.6 micrograms of plastic were measured per millilitre of blood, with the highest concentration just over 7 micrograms.
POSSIBLE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES
It is still unclear whether and how easily plastic particles can pass from the bloodstream to the organs and how dangerous they actually are. However, it has been shown that microplastic particles not only appear in the blood stream, but also settle in the lungs. A British study published in ‘Science of the Total Environment’ makes this clear. The research, based on the examination of the lung tissue of 13 patients undergoing surgery, detected plastic particles up to the size of 0.003 mm and confirmed their presence in 11 cases. The analysis also identified the type of microplastics present in the lung alveoli: polypropylene, mainly used in packaging and pipes, and Pet, mainly used for bottles. The most common and the same ones detected in blood.
A GLOBAL PROBLEM
The spread of plastics in the environment, as mentioned, has always been considered an environmental problem, to be limited in order to protect soil, land and water. Thanks to recent health discoveries, we are now aware of the true extent of the problem, which also affects the health of humans and the entire food chain.
Microscopic plastic fragments are not visible to the naked eye, they spread through the air, penetrate the environment and, above all, can be ingested by animals and humans. Their accumulation in the environment – current production is estimated at over 300 million tonnes per year – is a catastrophe for all ecosystems, starting with the oceans, but the confirmation that they are also present inside the human body, in the blood and in the lungs, actually opens up new scenarios that were previously unimaginable and turns the issue of microplastics into a global challenge in the health field as well, given the real risk to human and animal health.