Environment

Study of human tissues finds plastic particles in every sample

Study of human tissues finds p...
Scientists are a long way from understanding exactly what impacts plastic particles might have on the human body, but a new study indicates their presence in human tissue is widespread
Scientists are a long way from understanding exactly what impacts plastic particles might have on the human body, but a new study suggests we should be concerned
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Scientists are a long way from understanding exactly what impacts plastic particles might have on the human body, but a new study indicates their presence in human tissue is widespread
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Scientists are a long way from understanding exactly what impacts plastic particles might have on the human body, but a new study suggests we should be concerned

One of the great unknowns when it comes to plastic pollution is what kind of threat tiny fragments can pose to the health of living organisms. Scientists have turned to human tissue for answers, and discovered evidence of plastic fragments in every single sample they studied.

The research was led by scientists at Arizona State University, who believe it is the first study to examine micro- and nano-plastic buildup in human organs and tissues. These are plastics that have been broken down to measure less than 5 mm in size, with some as small as 0.001 mm, making them very difficult to track through the environment.

“You can find plastics contaminating the environment at virtually every location on the globe, and in a few short decades, we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat,” says member of the research team Charles Rolsky. “There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies, but very few studies have looked for it there. And at this point, we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.”

Previous studies have looked at the impacts of plastic pollution on fish, where it was found to cause aneurysms and reproductive changes, and in crustaceans, where it is ground down into even tinier pieces in a matter of days. Other studies have shown how plastics can travel through the gastrointestinal tract, but as far as the researchers know, nobody has yet studied how these materials might build up in human organs after we consume them.

The research involved 47 tissue samples taken from the lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys, which the team figured were the organs most likely to encounter microplastics. Using a combination of computer programming, μ-Raman spectrometry and mass spectrometry, the team was able to identify and extract plastics from the tissue samples, and produce data on the particle count, along with the mass and surface area of the fragments.

Using this technique, the team detected dozens of different plastic types, including polyethylene, polycarbonate and, interestingly, Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used in some plastics that is the subject of some controversy, due to the potential health risks. In all, the team found plastic contamination, including BPA, in all samples it studied.

While scientists are a long way from understanding exactly what impacts plastic particles might have on the human body, studies like this one are early and important pieces of the puzzle. The scientists will share their newly developed computer program as an online tool to help other researchers in the field, and hope to continue their work to further unravel the health risks of plastic pollution.

“We never want to be alarmist, but it is concerning that these non-biodegradable materials that are present everywhere can enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we don’t know the possible health effects,” says team member Varun Kelkar. “Once we get a better idea of what’s in the tissues, we can conduct epidemiological studies to assess human health outcomes. That way, we can start to understand the potential health risks, if any.”

The team is presenting its findings at the American Chemical Society Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo on Monday.

Source: American Chemical Society

12 comments
Grunchy
There's fragments of stone everywhere, too. Stone is even more durable in the environment, and over time fractures down to microscopic size exactly the same. You might say that on Earth you cannot escape from the fragments of stone that seem to be everywhere.
kwalispecial
@Grunchy I think the difference is that the stone has been around longer than living organisms, so we've had plenty of time to adapt. Organisms did not evolve to manage microscopic plastic, which has only been around for less than 100 years.
clay
This is what we SHOULD be talking about... rather than CO2 increases in the ~few ppm. Pollution of our world is a MUCH BIGGER problem. and funny enough, solving it tends to address the concerns of the Climate Alarmists as well. See there? Middle Ground: a topic we can all agree *must* be addressed.
Username
@Grunchy Stones dont float. And although stones can be grinned into dust they don't degraded simply by being exposed to sunlight. Chickens eat stone as a function of their digestive system but it does not make it's way into their meat or eggs. I dare you to find a study that has found traces of stone in human tissue.
Johnny Partain
Suspicious. Plastic in all samples, including the control samples?
ArdisLille
The phrase "every single sample" would carry more weight if the sample source and size of the cohort was defined more. 47 samples from how many (living?) bodies? From what geographic location? I look forward to the next installment of this article, which I hope is "to be continued."
nehopsa
only The Graduate (plastics !) could provide some control samples from his spare tissues, right Mr. Robinson? Time machine needed. Plastics are now EVERYWHERE. He won !
Grunchy
I hate to break it to you folks but if there's plastic fragments in *every* sample of human tissue then there's probably plastic fragments in *every* human everywhere, and even though we may not have specifically evolved to handle plastic fragments it doesn't seem to have any discernible effect. Unless you can say what that is, of course. Hint: be specific.
ptim
If they ever reboot Children of Men, they'll cite this study 😆

(Why would you though?! Perfect movie!)
wolf0579
Grungy, you should just go back to your Faux Snooze and let the grown-ups worry about these matters. You're clearly out of your league here. There isn't any real science to be learned in your bibble.