Plastic in our body

Rox Pena
Rox Pena

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental problems today. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. They eat plastics, mistaking it for food. They die when their digestive tracts are blocked causing starvation. Some get entangled in discarded fishing nets, six-ring packs, and other plastic materials.

When big pieces of plastic break down, they become microplastics (pieces less than 5 millimeters in length) and nanoplastics (between 1 nanometer and 1 micrometer). They are ingested by smaller marine species like fish, shrimp, mussels and krills (small shrimp-like crustacean). They may not immediately kill these species, but studies have shown that plastic ingestion have negative health effects on them.

The worst thing is that humans are also ingesting microplastics. It’s in our food and water. It was found even in beer and bottled water. A study carried out by the University of Newcastle finds that people could be ingesting approximately five grams of plastic every week on average, which is the equivalent weight of a credit card.

We are inhaling plastics too. A study entitled “Breathing plastics in Metro Manila, Philippines: Presence of suspended atmospheric microplastics in ambient air,” which investigated the air quality of 16 cities and one municipality, found that all sampling areas had the presence of suspended atmospheric microplastics. Inhalation ranks as the second most likely pathway for human exposure to plastics.

Once it gets into our bodies, micro and nanoplastics invade our internal organs. Studies have established the presence of nano and microplastic particles in the respiratory systems of humans. Microscopic and nanoscopic “jagged-edged” pieces of plastic were also found lodged in the fatty deposits that line human arteries according to research done by the University of Campania in Naples. These plastics include polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride.

It's in the placenta too. A study by researchers at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children examined placentas donated by women who delivered in Hawaii from 2006 to 2021 and found the presence of microplastic particles.

When we eat microplastics though our food, they make their way from the gut to other organs. A University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center researchers found that microplastics make their way from the gut and into the tissues of the kidney, liver and brain. Tiny particles of plastic can cross the intestinal barrier and infiltrate into other tissues.

Researchers have found microplastics damage human cells, decrease reproductive health, and disrupt the endocrine system. Microplastics also act as a vessel for harmful substances to enter the body as they can absorb chemicals linked to cancers and weakened immune systems.

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