Plastics are fundamental to modern civilization and devastate our ecosystems. Considering that an estimated eight million tons will fill the sea each year – contributing to the estimated 150 million tons that are already circulating in the waters of the Earth – the non-biodegradable miracle material is a serious cause of environmental problems.
A new study suggests the planet is not the only body to suffer plastic contamination. Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and the Federal Environment Agency have announced this week that they have found microplastics – plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters – in stool samples from each of their human subjects. In other words, plastic also comes into our body.
Eight persons from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria participated in the study. Each person conducted a food diary the week before stool sampling, which showed researchers that all participants were exposed to food either wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. Six of the eight also ate sea fish; none of them were vegetarians.
As marine life uses plastic and microplastic in the ocean, eating seafood is one way people can capture microplastics. The stool samples were tested at the Federal Environment Agency in Austria for 1
"This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected plastics ultimately reach the human gut," said lead researcher. Philipp Schwabl in a statement. "Of particular concern is what this means to us and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases."
The findings raise concerns about how microplastic uptake is harmful to human health (or not). However, experts who were not involved in the study say they have no definitive answers due to lack of research in this area. Associate Professor Laurence Macia, a Beckett Fellow at the School of Medical Sciences, Sydney University, said Salon as the study's researchers found, is key to seeing which components of these microplastics can overcome the gastrointestinal barrier. She added that microplastics is often associated with organic pollutants from water, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and that their effects on human health should also be taken into account.
"When these microplastics are excreted in the gut and excrement, they may have minimal effects, but they may affect the function of cells lining the gut (called epithelial cells), which may affect gut integrity." she said Salon in an e-mail. "From this study, we can not say whether the presence of plastic in the stool is bad or not."
Macia added that while some studies have shown that polystyrene nanoparticles can travel through intestinal epithelial cells and accumulate in gastric cells – suggesting microplasty can bypass the gastrointestinal barrier – they have not been demonstrated.
"There is a significant research gap in this area," she said. "Little is known about how microplastics could affect bowel and immune function, but sensitization is important because we could not evolve with such components and could have negative health effects (which must be determined)." Biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said his main criticism of the study was that they do not give researchers the full picture. For example, he said it was possible that the plastic found in the stool samples could come from the lab itself.
"Anyone working with microplastics knows they are everywhere, even in the cleanest lab," he told Salon in an e-mail. "This is just another side [effect] of the plastic age we live in. Accordingly, you need to do a thorough quality control to make sure the microplastics you find actually come from the sample, without knowing the details We do not, what the Austrian researchers have actually measured. "
The results, according to Wagner, are not surprising, considering" we live in the plastic age. "
" We have long known that most of we have chemicals from plastics in our blood, "he said. Admittedly, that has some effect, but in the best case we would just eliminate the particles (since we eliminate other indigestible materials). "
Wagner said the jury was still not in the question whether microplastics alone or not are inherently harmful to human health.
"We have very limited knowledge about the toxicity of microplastics to humans," said Wagner. "So it's premature to answer that question, that does not mean we should wait for science." we try to reduce our plastic consumption. It will help the environment, and we can now be better off than sorry later. "