Science & Technology
In penguins, on Everest, in human blood: The explosion of microplastics
- Microplastics have found their way into the human bloodstream, according to new research.
- The world’s first study into the presence of plastics in human blood published in March found particles in nearly 80 per cent of the people tested.
- Microplastics are tiny plastic particles under 5mm in size that pollute the world’s environment.
- They have been found across the planet — in the world’s oceans, the air we breathe, and now in our blood.
- They are most invisible to the naked eye and can be a comparable size to bacterium or as small as a virus
Where do they come from?
Microplastics come from two main sources-
- The first are manufactured microplastics. They can be used as exfoliants in health and beauty products, such as toothpaste, face scrubs and shower gels, for example, or as pellets to make larger bits of plastic.
- The second group comes from bigger bits of plastic — like bottles, car tyres, paint — that then gradually degrade into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics are also found in clothes and other textiles, which can shed microfibres when washed.
- The second category — created when plastic waste is mismanaged — is most prevalent in the environment
Why are they all over the planet, including in our blood?
- Microplastics have been found in the air, water, and remote parts of the globe’s landmass.
- That’s because they are light and can be easily spread around the world by wind and water, and “do not” or “hardly” decompose.
- Manufactured microplastics, like those found in rinse-off cosmetics such as shower gel, can also get through water filtration systems.
- In 2020, a study was published which said microplastics had been discovered at their highest point on Earth, near the summit of Mount Everest.
- Some microplastics are also small enough to be ingested or inhaled by humans and wildlife and have been found inside humans and animals, including penguins in Antarctica. Most recently they have been found in human blood.
Are they dangerous?
- The impact of microplastics on the health of wildlife and humans is still being researched.
- It’s been established that they are harmful to various sea species like muscles and fish, but whether they’re going to be harmful to humans or not is still debated.
- However, there has been regular research published that suggests it’s very possible that they will be harmful.
Microplastics listed on cosmetic ingredients
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Polypropylene (PP)