As a human living in the 21st-century industrialized world, there’s a good chance that microplastics are pumping around in your veins if this small first-of-its-kind study is anything to go by.
Reporting in the journal Environment International, scientists from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam developed a method to accurately measure concentrations of microplastics in human blood for the first time.
Just as they suspected, it showed that microplastics from the outside world are ending up in the bloodstream of humans. The team tested the blood of 22 people for five commonly used types of plastic and found that 17 of the samples (77 percent) contained tiny amounts of microplastics.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene, and polymers of styrene were the most common types of plastic found in the blood samples, followed by poly(methyl methacrylate). These are the types of plastics we find everywhere in the 21st century, from drinks bottles and shopping bags to food packaging and disposable cutlery.
The amount of plastic in the bloodstream was teeny — comparable to a teaspoon of plastic in 1,000 liters of blood — but it’s enough to raise concerns that it may have some impact on our health.
“We have now proven that our bloodstream, our river of life as it were, has plastic in it,” Marja Lamoree, study author and ecotoxicologist from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said in a statement. “This dataset is the first of its kind and must be expanded to gain insight into how widespread plastic pollution is in the bodies of humans, and how harmful that may be. With this insight, we can determine whether exposure to plastic particles poses a threat to public health.”
Commenting on the study, independent scientists working in the field have praised the work, saying the research is “extremely interesting” and “robust,” despite its small sample size.
The effects of microplastic on human health are not totally understood by science and wider evidence for the toxicity of microplastics in human food is also pretty scant. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently says there’s “no evidence to indicate human health concern” over microplastics in drinking water, although they note this is based on the limited amount of information currently available.
However, with an ever-mounting number of studies finding that microplastics can be found in every nook and cranny of our bodies and the natural world, it’s a question that needs some clear answers soon.