People eat at least 50,000 plastic particles a year, study finds
Health effects of ingestion of microplastics via food, water and breathing still unknown
The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathes in a similar quantity, according to the first study to estimate human ingestion of plastic pollution.
The true number is likely to be many times higher, as only a small number of foods and drinks have been analysed for plastic contamination. The scientists reported that drinking a lot of bottled water drastically increased the particles consumed.
The health impacts of ingesting microplastic are unknown, but they could release toxic substances. Some pieces are small enough to penetrate human tissues, where they could trigger immune reactions.
Microplastic pollution is mostly created by the disintegration of plastic litter and appears to be ubiquitous across the planet. Researchers find microplastics everywhere they look; in the air, soil, rivers and the deepest oceans around the world.
They have been detected in tap and bottled water, seafood and beer. They were also found in human stool samples for the first time in October, confirming that people ingest the particles.
The new research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, took the data from 26 previous studies that measure the amounts of microplastic particles in fish, shellfish, sugar, salt, beer and water, as well as in the air in cities.
The scientists then used US government dietary guidelines to calculate how many particles people would eat in a year. Adults eat about 50,000 microplastic particles a year and children about 40,000, they estimated.
Plastics and our throwaway society
Most food and drink types have not been tested, however, meaning the study only assessed 15% of calorie intake. “We don’t know a huge amount. There are some major data gaps that need to get filled,” said Kieran Cox, at the University of Victoria in Canada, who led the research.
Other foods, such as bread, processed products, meat, dairy and vegetables, may well contain just as much plastic, he said. “It is really highly likely there is going to be large amounts of plastic particles in these. You could be heading into the hundreds of thousands.”
Some of the best available data is on water, with bottled water containing 22 times more microplastic than tap water on average. A person who only drank bottled water would consume 130,000 particles per year from that source alone, the researchers said, compared with 4,000 from tap water.
Scientists do not know what happens when microplastics are inhaled, but the new study speculates that “most inhaled particles will be ingested” rather than coughed or sneezed out. The researchers also estimated that microplastic particles settling on to a single meal per day could add a further tens of thousands to the annual amount consumed.
Cox was clear that there are no known health effects as yet, but he said the ingested particles are “a high exposure risk in terms of numbers. It could be a potential alarm call for sure”.
Microplastic pollution revealed ‘absolutely everywhere’ by new research
Stephanie Wright, at King’s College London, who was not involved in the research, said: “These current estimates suggest microplastic exposure is relatively low compared to other particles. For example, it has been estimated that the average western diet exposes consumers to billions of titanium dioxide microparticles, a common additive, each day. However, what comparatively low microplastic exposures mean for health is unknown.”
The European commission’s chief scientific advisers said in a report in April: “The evidence [on the environmental and health risks of microplastics] provides grounds for genuine concern and for precaution to be exercised.”
They concluded: “Growing scientific evidence on the hazards of uncontrolled microplastic pollution, combined with its long-term persistence and irreversibility, suggests that reasonable and proportional measures should be taken to prevent the release of microplastics.”
Cox said his research had changed his own behaviour. “I definitely steer away from plastic packaging and try to avoid bottled water as much as possible,” he said.
“Removing single-use plastic from your life and supporting companies that are moving away from plastic packaging is going to have a non-trivial impact,” Cox said. “The facts are simple. We are producing a lot of plastic and it is ending up in the ecosystems, which we are a part of.”
Contamination found across UK lakes and rivers, in US groundwater, along the Yangtze river and Spanish coast, and harbouring dangerous bacteria in Singapore
Thu 7 Mar 2019 00.01 GMT Last modified on Fri 8 Mar 2019 02.21 GMT
Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain.
Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes.
The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.
“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic.
Welcome to Australia's plastic beach – video https://youtu.be/qM8uvAZ2wU0?t=4
“Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”
The River Thames in London was found to have about 80 microplastic particles per litre, as was the River Cegin in North Wales. The Blackwater River in Essex had 15. Ullswater has 30 and the Llyn Cefni reservoir on Anglesey 40.
Microplastics have been shown to harm marine life when mistaken for food and were found inside every marine mammal studied in a recent UK survey. They were revealed in 2017 to be in tap water around the world and in October to be consumed by people in Europe, Japan and Russia.
“Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans,” said Julian Kirby, a plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged MPs to back legislation “to drastically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that’s blighting our environment”.
Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.
Defined as smaller than 5mm in size, microplastics have also been found underground in limestone aquifers in Illinois, US, at a level of 15 particles per litre. This type of groundwater source provides about a quarter of the world’s drinking water.
Other recent studies have found microplastics in bottom-living creatures and sediments taken from the North Sea and the Barents Sea. High concentrations were also found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and along the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Microplastics are shed by synthetic clothing, vehicle tyres and the spillage of plastic pellets used by manufacturers. The physical breakdown of plastic litter also creates them. Rain washes them into rivers and the sea, but they can also be blown by the wind and end up in fields when treated sewage waste is used as fertiliser.
Kirsten Thompson from the University of Exeter, who is working with Greenpeace on a survey of microplastics in the UK’s major rivers, said: “We hope our research will help uncover exactly where this plastic is coming from and what impact it may be having.”
Research finds even supposedly pristine region of the Pyrenees is polluted
Scientists found that winds can carry plastic pollution ‘anywhere and everywhere’. Photograph: Teresa Short/Getty Images
Microplastic is raining down on even remote mountaintops, a new study has revealed, with winds having the capacity to carry the pollution “anywhere and everywhere”.
The scientists were astounded by the quantities of microplastic falling from the sky in a supposedly pristine place such as the French stretch of the Pyrenees mountains. Researchers are now finding microplastics everywhere they look; in rivers, the deepest oceans and soils around the world.
Other recent studies have found microplastics in farmland soils near Shanghai, China, in the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site, and in rivers in the Czech Republic. Humans and other animals are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the potential health effects on people and ecosystems are as yet unknown.
However the ubiquity of the pollution means it needs to be taken very seriously, said Steve Allen, at the EcoLab research institute near Toulouse and who led the new work in the Pyrenees: “If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be a very big problem. I don’t think there is an organism on Earth that is immune to this.”
About 335m tonnes of plastic is produced each year – while it degrades extremely slowly, it can be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans is now well known but just two previous studies have looked at its presence in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles.
The new study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show microplastic is raining down just as hard in remote environments and that it can travel across significant distances through wind. The team collected samples from high altitudes in the Pyrenees that were far from sources of plastic waste – the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km.
An inverse image of a plastic fibre. Microplastics can travel through the atmosphere and end up in regions far from their original emission source. Photograph: Allen et al/Nature
They found an average of 365 plastic particles, fibres and films were deposited per square metre every day. “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found,” said Allen.
“It is comparable to what was found in the centre of Paris and Dongguan, and those are megacities where a lot of pollution is expected,” said Deonie Allen, also at EcoLab and part of the team. “Because we were on the top of a remote mountain, and there is no close source, there is the potential for microplastic to be anywhere and everywhere.”
The level of plastic particle rain correlated with the strength of the winds and analysis of the available data showed the microplastics could be carried 100km in the air. However, modelling indicates they could be carried much further. Saharan desert dust is already known to be carried thousands of kilometres by wind.
The most common microplastics found were polystyrene and polyethylene, both widely used in single-use packaging and plastic bags. The samples were collected during winter and it is possible that even more microplastic may fall in summer, when drier weather means particles are more easily lifted from the ground by the wind.
Microplastics have been shown to harm marine life when mistaken for food and were found inside every marine mammal studied in a recent UK survey. They were revealed in 2017 to have contaminated tap water around the world and in October to have been consumed by people in Europe, Japan and Russia.
Many scientists are concerned about the potential health impacts of microplastics, which easily absorb toxic chemicals and can host harmful bacteria, with some even suggesting people are breathing the particles. The new research shows microplastics can remain airborne.
“When you get down to respiratory size particles, we don’t know what those do,” said Deonie Allen. “That is a really big unknown, and we don’t want it to end up something like asbestos.” Plastic fibres have been found in human lung tissue, with those researchers suggesting they are “candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer”.
Professor Stefan Krause, at the University of Birmingham, UK, and not part of the team, said the new Pyrenees research was convincing: “These findings surely highlight the need for more detailed studies.”
“Frankly we are only at the start of understanding [microplastic pollution],” he said. Krause is leading a project called 100 Plastic Rivers which will produce the first systematic, global analysis of microplastics in freshwater ecosystems. He said the particles pose a range of potential dangers, from affecting soils and food production and carrying toxic chemicals and microbes far and wide.
Add to the above https://yourradiationthisweek.org/ as an ongoing challenge to one's health.