One the many reasons to be concerned about the monumental problem of plastic pollution is the uncertainty around its effects when consumed by organisms, including us humans. Scientists have suspected it can make its way into our bellies through the consumption of seafood, and one recent paper confirmed its presence in 93 percent of bottled water. A new study will do little to allay these fears, describing the presence of various microplastics in human stool samples across the globe for the first time.
The research was carried out by scientists at the Medical University of Vienna together with the Environment Agency Austria, who worked with a group of eight participants hailing from Finland, Italy, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, the UK, Russia and Austria.
This involved having the subjects keeping a food diary over a week and then having their stools sampled thereafter. Six of them consumed sea fish in that time, and none were vegetarians, while all consumed plastic wrapped foods and drank from plastic bottles.
The scientists say microplastics turned up in every single stool sample, with as many as nine different plastic types identified in each. Polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) were the most common, and the pieces ranged from 50 to 500 micrometers in size. On average, they found 20 particles per 10 g (0.35 oz) of stool.
"This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut," says lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl. "Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases. While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health."
Schwabl is presenting the new research at the 26th United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna this week.
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