Pena: Microplastics in fruits and vegetables

WE ARE conscious about our health so we make sure the food we eat is clean. We wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. We drink mineral water because it has undergone several processes of purification. We get rid of the dirt that the naked eye can see. However, tiny microscopic particles remain in the food. Among them are microplastics, small plastic pieces less than five millimeters in size.

Microplastics have penetrated our food chain. They are ingested by marine creatures. 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. Even in supposedly clean products like bottled water, microplastics were detected. An analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90 percent contained tiny pieces of plastic. Researchers at the University of Minnesota in the United States also found microplastics in 12 brands of beer made with water from the Great Lakes.

And now here’s a new groundbreaking study published in the journal, Environmental Research. It has found that fruits and vegetables absorb microplastic particles from the soil and translocate them through vegetal tissues where they remain until eaten, thus getting transferred to human bodies. This study is important because it's the first to detect microplastics in edible fruits and vegetables.

The researchers, who are from the University of Catania in Italy, as well as Sousse and Monastir universities in Tunisia, analyzed a variety of common fruits and vegetables like carrots, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, apples and pears. The researchers found that apples, followed by pears, were the most contaminated fruit samples, and carrots were the most contaminated vegetable. Lettuce contained the smallest number of microplastic particles, though these were physically larger than the ones found in carrot samples.

Looks like ingesting microplastics is the new normal. A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology says humans may be consuming anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year. The question is, what is the effect on our health? Are they simply flushed out in the toilet or absorbed by the body?

Sadly, there is still no definite answer to this. The World Health Organization called for a further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health. This is after the release of an analysis which says that microplastics larger than 150 micrometers are not likely to be absorbed in the human body and uptake of smaller particles is expected to be limited.

The best we can do right not is to reduce or eliminate the use of plastics. This way, we can avoid all forms of plastic pollution, including microplastics.


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