A team of scientists has found microplastics in the human food chain, specifically in feces.
Research, conducted by the Austrian Federal Environment Agency and the Vienna Medical University has shown the presence of up to nine different types of particulate plastics made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with sizes ranging from 50 to 500 microns and found in bottles and food wrappers.
The research participants, five women and three men between the ages of 33 and 65, wrote a diary about their diet for a week and then a stool sample was taken, the researchers explained to the European Union of Gastroenterology (UEG), which meets until Friday in Vienna.
The participants based their diet on the consumption of food or beverages packaged in plastic and most of them also ate fish or shellfish, but no one ate exclusively a vegetarian diet.
As a result, it was found that in the eight people, an average of 20 microplastic particles were detected for every 10 grams of stool.
The director of the study, Philipp Schwabl, commented: "We did not expect it, also, because we chose the participants at random," said the scientist, who hopes to raise enough funds to replicate the experiment with a larger number of people.
"We believe that these results indicate that the presence of plastics in humans is more widespread than we had assumed, although it is still too early to draw conclusions because for that we need a larger study," said the researcher.
He was cautious when discussing the impact of plastics on human health. "The effects of microplastic particles found in the human body, particularly in the digestive tract, can only be investigated in the context of a larger study" Schwabl added.
In other animal experiments, he noted, the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the gastrointestinal tract, but particles of that material were also found in the blood or even the liver.
"Although there is evidence that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances, more studies are needed to evaluate the potential dangers of microplastics to humans," said Schwabl.
“Our study was planned as an exploratory pilot trial, as no data was available until now. Due to the cost, we started with a small number of people, but the objective is to carry out a larger trial ”, he indicated and in this way to ensure more specific results such as the origin of the plastics.
What are microplastics?
Microplastics or plastic microspheres are present in a multitude of hygiene and cleaning products. They began accumulating in the oceans four decades ago and are now ubiquitous in the marine environment.
They are less than 5mm in diameter and are found in toothpastes, shower gels, body wash, scrubs, detergents, cleansing agents, sunscreens, scrubbing products, and in synthetic fibers in clothing.
They can be made of different types of plastic such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or polystyrene (PET).
The problem of microplastics
It is estimated that each year, in Europe alone, 8,627 tons of plastic from microspheres in cosmetics reach the marine environment (equivalent to the weight of the Eiffel Tower).
The problem does not end with cosmetic and cleaning products, because microplastics are mainly generated by the decomposition, through weathering, degradation and wear, of larger pieces of this material. Between 2 and 5 percent of all plastics produced end up in the seas.
Once in the ocean, plastics are consumed by marine animals and enter the food chain where, ultimately, humans are likely to consume them. Significant amounts of microplastics have been detected in tuna, lobster, and shrimp. Beyond that, it is highly likely that during various steps of food processing or as a result of food packaging they are becoming contaminated with plastics.
Use of plastics
For the researcher, the international community should take measures to reduce the use of plastics and seek recycling formulas, since this synthetic material takes hundreds of years to disappear from the environment.
Global plastic production currently exceeds 400 million tons per year and it is estimated that between two and five percent of this material ends up in the sea, where the waste is absorbed by marine fauna and can reach humans through through the food chain, recalls the study.
According to other international studies, every minute a million plastic bottles are sold in the world and each of these containers takes about 450 years to disintegrate.
In that time the plastic breaks down into tiny fragments that have been traced in fish, tap water, or even table salt.
With information from: