• Cosmo Scott

Microplastics found in Humans for the first time in history. What can we do to help?

As the years continue, the rate at which plastic is produced and consumed is doing nothing but increasing. In 2019 plastic production reached a never before recorded high of 368 million metric tons. This is a big issue for us humans and all other occupants of this planet due to the chemical structure of plastics making them non-biodegradable. Plastic can’t be degraded by bacteria due to the very well balanced charge along the hydrocarbon chain that plastic is comprised of. This means that the bacteria that are usually responsible for bio-degrading are ineffective as there is no chemical imbalance to exploit such as in many other natural compounds. While plastics can be degraded by UV from the sun, this process has to take place over a very long period of time. Some plastics such as shopping bags may only take a relatively short amount of time to degrade, approximately 10-20 years. There are other plastic products however, such as plastic drinks bottles, that can take up to 500 years to decompose. This raises the question; where does all these hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic go?


Unfortunately the answer to this question is not a pretty one. Scientists have known for a very long time now about the ever increasing number of microplastics found in the seafood we eat, but a recent study conducted with the use of Raman Microspectroscopy has shown, for the first time ever, traces of microplastics in the human placenta. This is also the first time any man made particle has been found in the placenta. In this study six subjects were examined, a total of 12 microplastic particles were found in four out of six subjects, these ranged from 5μm to 10μm in size. Five were found on the foetal side, four on the maternal side and three in the chorioamniotic membranes. It's also necessary to note that these plastics were found in 23 gram samples of each placenta, thus suggesting the total number of microplastic particles in the whole placenta would be much higher. The distribution of these microplastics is important to note because it is evidence that suggests that microplastics can travel to all areas of the placenta once in the body.


How is all that plastic getting in there? Well as of right now there is no conclusive evidence to suggest one specific path of these plastics. It is most likely that these plastics are entering the bloodstream through either the respiratory system or gastrointestinal system. Thus showing how microplastics have entered the food chain and are now possibly in the very air we breathe.


Are these plastics dangerous? Wright and Kelly,2017, suggests that “once present in the human body, MPs {MicroPlastics} may accumulate and exert localized toxicity by inducing and/or enhancing immune responses and, hence, potentially reducing the defence mechanisms against pathogens and altering the utilization of energy stores”


This discovery should be an eye opener to anyone out there, or anyone reading this, who was not convinced about the impact plastic waste is having on our environment. For the sake of those around you, yourself and the ecosystem you could take simple and easy steps to try reduce your consumption of plastic. These steps include: bringing a reusable or biodegradable bag to the supermarket; declining a straw with your drinks when eating out (or getting a bamboo straw); buy boxes instead of bottles (products like detergent come in both) or even choosing to use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters.

Employing any one of these steps can make you part of the solution.



Works Cited:

Statista. “Global Plastic Production 1950-2019.” Statista, 27 Jan. 2021, www.statista.com/statistics/282732/global-production-of-plastics-since-1950/#:%7E:text=In%202019%2C%20the%20global%20production,quarter%20of%20the%20global%20production.

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“Plasticenta: First Evidence of Microplastics in Human Placenta.” ScienceDirect, 1 Jan. 2021, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412020322297#b0195.


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