Plastic is a constant presence in people’s daily lives and avoiding it is a complicated and demanding task. In fact, whether in seas and rivers, on the road or in the air itself, plastic has become a giant source of pollution, by the hand of people.
Now, scientists reveal that they found micro and nanoplastics in human organs and tissues.
From 8 to 80 in a matter of years
Plastic pollution is a real problem and, being visible, it becomes less complex to solve. However, the material is so intrinsic that it is no longer present only on the floor, like a bottle, or at sea, like a bag. This is because animals and humans can ingest imperceptible particles, which result in uncertain health consequences.
You can find plastics contaminating the environment in virtually every location on the globe, and in a few decades, we will move from seeing plastic as a huge benefit to considering it a threat.
Said Charles Rolsky, who presented the results of a survey yesterday at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo.
Plastic that (imperceptibly) invades even people's tissues
Scientists define microplastics as fragments of plastic that are less than 5 millimeters, or about 0.2 inches in diameter. However, nanoplastics are even smaller, having diameters of 0.001 mm.
Although the consequences for human health are unknown, animal research reveals that micro and nanoplastics present in animal tissues are related to several pathologies. For example, infertility, inflammation and cancer.
There is evidence that plastic is entering our bodies, but very few studies have looked there. At this point, we don't know if this plastic is just an inconvenience or if it represents a danger to human health.
Still, previous studies have shown that plastics can pass through the gastrointestinal tract. However, Rolsky and another colleague, who also presented the investigation yesterday, Varun Kelkar, questioned the permanence and accumulation of tiny plastic particles in human organs.
To find out, the researchers teamed up with Diego Mastroeni to obtain samples from a large deposit of human brain and body tissues. As explained, the 47 samples were collected from lungs, livers, spleens and kidneys.
As a team, they developed a procedure to extract plastics from tissue samples and analyze it, using μ-Raman spectrometry. In addition, they created a computer program that converted the counting of plastic particles into units of mass and surface area.
Now that they have developed this online tool, they intend to make it accessible, so that more scientists report their results.
This shared resource will help to build a plastic exposure database, so that we can compare exposures to organs and groups of people geographically and over time.
Said Rolf Halden of Arizona State University.
47 tissue samples, 47 plastic samples
The method they chose for the investigation allows scientists to detect dozens of types of plastic components. In fact, inside human tissues they found polycarbonate (PC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene (PE).
In addition, they also found, in the 47 samples under study, bisphenol A (BPA), a component used in many food containers, despite the health implications.
According to the researchers, the individuals who provided the tissue samples reported in detail about their lifestyle, diet and exposures. Therefore, the study can provide the first clues about potential sources and routes of exposure to micro and nanoplastics.
We never want to be alarmists, but it is worrying that these materials that are not biodegradable, that are present everywhere, can enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we do not know the possible health effects.