The microplastics have reached the human intestine

Stool samples from people from countries as distant and different as the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia or Japan contained particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and up to a dozen different plastics. Although this is a pilot study with a small group of people, the geographic diversity of the participants and the types of plastics identified leads the authors of the research to highlight the urgency of determining the impact of microplastics on human health.

Since the sixties of last century the production of plastics has grown almost 9% every year. In 2015 alone, 322 million tons were produced, according to UN data. Sooner or later, much of that plastic ends up in the environment, particularly in the seas: about eight million tons a year. The action of water, microorganisms and sunlight gradually degrades the plastic to reduce it to small particles of a few microns in length (one micron is equivalent to one thousandth of a millimeter). Some are so small that microscopic plankton confuses them with food. Until recently, the microspheres present in various cosmetic products did not need erosion to be a problem, but their progressive removal of the products is minimizing their impact.

The study of microplastics inside

The rest of the story is known: the big fish eats the boy. It was a matter of time before the plastic created by humans came back to them. The study, presented on Tuesday at a gastroenterology congress that is being held in Vienna (Austria), was attended by eight volunteers from as many countries, among which are, apart from those mentioned, Finland, Poland, Netherlands and Austria itself. For a week they had to eat and drink as usual, noting everything they ate, whether it was fresh or the type of packaging that contained the food. After that time, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the state agency for the environment of the Alpine country took samples of their feces.

The results show that, of the 10 plastics searched, they found nine of them. The most common were propylene, basic in milk and juice containers, and PET, from which most plastic bottles are made. The length of the particles ranged between 50 and 500 microns. And, on average, the researchers found 20 microplastics for every 10 grams of fecal matter. By the newspaper that took the participants, it is known that all consumed some packaged food and at least six ate fish. But the research could not determine the origin of the particles found in the samples.

“It is the first study of this type and confirms what we have been suspecting for some time, that plastics eventually reach the intestine,” Philipp Schwabl, gastroenterologist and hepatologist at the Medical University of Vienna and lead author of the study, says in a note. “Although in animal studies the highest concentration of plastics has been located in the intestine, the smallest microplastic particles can enter the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and even reach the liver,” he adds, concluding that it is urgent to investigate to find out ” what this implies for human health. “

microplastic

Water sample with Microplastic Debris | Image: Science Nordic

Harmful to humans?

A report by the United Nations Food Organization (FAO) of 2016 collected data on the presence of microplastics in marine life: up to 800 species of molluscs, crustaceans and fish already know what it is to eat plastic. Although the vast majority of the particles remain in the digestive system, part of the fish that is discarded when eating it, there is a risk of ingestion in the case of whole fish, such as shellfish, bivalves or smaller fish. Also, a study published by Greenpeace last week showed that, particularly in Asia, the vast majority of sea salt for domestic use contained microplastics.

But the question that science must still answer is from what amount ingested the plastic can be a problem for human health. Here, there are two risks, on the one hand the impact of the physical presence of the plastic particles and, on the other, the possible toxicity of its chemical components. Last summer, researchers from Johns Hopkins University (USA) published a review of what is known about microplastics at sea and their possible risks to human health. One of the studies estimated that humans can swallow up to 37 plastic particles a year from salt. It does not seem like a big amount and less if it ends up expelled from the body. But they also note that a good seafood fan could eat up to 11,000 particles in a year.

With info from The Telegraph and National Geographic


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