Contaminating microplastics are one of the great concerns of environmental scientists and organizations. They are in the water, in the fish, in the shellfish, in the birds… and in the human being.
A recent study presented at the Fall Virtual Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) has found evidence of plastics chemicals inside human organs and has developed a new method to detect microplastics in human tissue samples.
"There is evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies, but very few studies have looked for it there", explains Charles Rolsky of the Institute of Biodesign of the State University of Arizona (the United States) and responsible for the investigation.
Scientists define microplastics as plastic fragments of less than 5mm in diameterWhile nanoplastics are even smaller, with diameters less than 0.001 mm.
Much previous research on these types of tiny plastics has focused on in its accumulation and in its effects on marine life, with special attention to shellfish eaten by humans.
Can they cause cancer?
They have been associated with neurotoxic effects in wild fish and increased oxidative damage in humans which, in theory, can lead to increased risk of cancer. Some studies, however, have also suggested that microplastics do not have a permanent effect on some fish, they simply suffer from it as they pass through their digestive tract.
"It would be naive to believe that there is plastic everywhere but not in us. We provide a research platform that will allow us to search for what is invisible."
The big question is how microplastics affect people. "At this time, we don't know if this plastic is just a nuisance or if it represents a danger for human health, "Rolsky acknowledges.
Humans ingest microplastics and at least pass through the digestive system, as shown by various studies that have found them in fecal samples from people around the world. However, very little is known about whether they go to another part of the body after ingestion or from health effects, if any, in humans.
To analyze this, Rolsky and his colleagues accessed human tissue samples and developed a new method to analyze them in search of microplastics.
They studied 47 samples of 24 individuals, taken from organs that are likely to be exposed or leak microplastics, such as lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys.
They artificially added microplastics to the samples to test their new method and were able to detect the plastics. Scientists hope that their new technique can now be used to search for contaminants plastics in human tissues in the future.
"We do not want to be alarmist, but it is worrying that these non-biodegradable materials that are present everywhere can enter and accumulate in human tissues"
"It would be naive to believe that there is plastic everywhere but not in us," Rolf Halden of Arizona State University tells Forbes. "We are now providing a research platform that will allow us and others to search for what is invisible. "
"We don't want to be alarmistsBut it is worrying that these non-biodegradable materials that are present everywhere can enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we do not know the possible health effects, "the researchers write." Once we have a better idea of what there is in the tissues, we will be able to carry out epidemiological studies to evaluate the results in human health. "