We all use some form of plastic daily. Generally, most plastic is not biodegradable. Plastic only breaks down into tiny bits called microplastics over time. These tiny bits of plastics can be harmful to the environment.

Recent studies have shown food, particularly seafood contain microplastics. We humans unknowingly consume microplastics when we eat seafood containing microplastics.

There is ongoing research to see if microplastics are harmful to human health.

Today’s article will give our readers an insight into microplastics and whether they are indeed harmful to health.

What are microplastics?

As mentioned earlier, microplastics are tiny bits of plastics that are found in the environment. Plastic bits less than 5 mm in diameter can be defined as microplastics.

Microplastics are mainly made in two ways. Some microplastics such as microbeads are made and added to exfoliants and toothpaste which we use daily. The other way microplastics are made is when larger plastics are broken down over time in the environment.

Danger to the environment

Many people use single-use plastics, such as food and drink containers, plastic bags.  Plastic straws and cutlery are also used as well, out of convenience on a daily basis. There are a lot of people who do not think twice about tossing used plastic items into open drains and open waterways.

These plastic items make their way into the rivers and oceans. Some of these items break down into microplastic bits over time and float around before sea animals mistake them for food and eat them up.

Some unfortunate and normally big sea animals see plastic items in their original state (not broken down yet) as food, and consume them. Remember the National Geographic video showing how a drinking straw stuck up the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle was painfully removed? This is the damage we are doing to our sea animals with our uncaring attitude.

Two years ago, scientists estimated 276,000 tons of plastic and microplastics are currently floating at sea.

Microplastics are also common in soil where land animals consume them as well.

What about microplastics found in food?

The most common source of microplastics in food is found in seafood. A study published in the National Library of Medicine as far back as 2014, called “Isolation of microplastics in biota-rich seawater samples and marine organisms” clearly identified microplastics as one major source of contamination for sea animals.

It was also found that mussels and oysters, the favourite food of many people, are at higher risk of microplastic contamination that other sea animals. Food for thought – we may be unknowingly consuming up to 0.36 – 0.47 of microplastic particles per gram of mussels or oysters!

Another study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2015, labelled Microplastic Pollution in table Sales from China, found up to 600 microplastic particles per kg of salt.

Which chemicals in microplastics affect human health?

Research shows the presence of microplastics in our food. However, to date it is still not clear what effects microplastics may have on human health, due to limited research on this subject.

But some chemicals found in microplastics have been linked to human health.

Lab studies show a chemical used to make plastic flexible, Phthalates, does increase the growth of breast cancer cells.

Experiments showed microplastics fed to lab mice accumulated in their liver, kidneys and intestines. The microplastics were seen to have passed from the intestines into the blood.

Studies are currently being undertaken to examine the effects of microplastics in human bodies.

Conclusion: Microplastics are found in the environment – in our toothpaste, some exfoliants, in our food (especially seafood) or when plastic items eventually break down. There are ongoing studies to find out how microplastics affect human health.

We can all play a small but collective part in reducing microplastics in our environment, in our food chain and in our lives, by reducing our use of single-use or other plastic items. Think before tossing out that plastic item; there are many recycling centers out there that accept all types of plastic items.

 

By Aaron
13th October 2020 22:30

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