MICROPLASTICS, small plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size, are everywhere. They have penetrated our food chain. Even the deepest part of the oceans has been contaminated by this menace. Hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers have been found to have ingested microplastics even at that depth and thousands of miles away from the land-sourced base of the pollution.

Microplastics have also been discovered in table salt and in supposedly clean products like bottled water and beer. A study published in the journal Environmental Research also found that fruits and vegetables absorb microplastics particles from the soil and translocate them through vegetal tissues where they remain until eaten, thus getting transferred to human bodies. The World Health Organization called for a further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.

Now there’s one more danger. In addition to the possible negative effect of the material itself, viruses can also hitchhike into microplastics and pose danger to human health. There are three separate studies done by universities in different countries on this potential health concern.

In the study done by the University of Stirling in Scotland, United Kingdom, scientists have proven for the first time that viruses can survive and remain infectious by binding themselves to plastics in freshwater. Rotavirus, which causes diarrhea and an upset stomach, was found to survive for up to three days in lake water by attaching itself to the surfaces of microplastics. Note that microplastics are so small that they could potentially be ingested by someone swimming.

Another research done by scientists at Rice University's George R. Brown School of Engineering in Houston, Texas found out that microplastics can contribute to anti-biotic resistance. Discarded polystyrene broken down into microplastics provides a home not only for microbes and chemical contaminants but also for the free-floating genetic materials that deliver to bacteria anti-biotic resistance. The study also showed chemicals leaching from the plastic as it ages increase the susceptibility of vectors to horizontal gene transfer, through which resistance spreads.

The third study was done by Tel Aviv University researchers and was published in the journal Chemosphere. It found that in a marine environment, microplastics absorb and concentrate toxic organic substances and thus increase their toxicity by a factor of 10, which may lead to a severe impact on human health.

In this study it was shown that even very low concentrations of environmental pollutants, which are non-toxic to humans, once adsorb to the microplastic result in significant increase in toxicity. This is because microplastics are a kind of 'magnet' for environmental pollutants, concentrating them on its surfaces, 'ferrying' them through the digestive tract, and releasing them in a concentrated form in certain areas, thus causing increased toxicity.

With all these research pointing to the danger of plastic pollution, it’s time to take drastic actions. I hope that congress will finally pass the plastics regulation bill that was approved by the lower house in the previous administration but did not make it into a law.