What Are Microplastics And Should We Be Worried?

In the last couple of years it seems that you can’t so much as look at the news without seeing something about microplastics in the environment and how they are damaging our health. But, very few places really get to explaining what microplastics actually are and whilst most people seem to know they’re a bad thing, not so many people really know exactly what they are or how harmful they actually are. This is often the problem with very small pollutants that cause damage over the long term as it’s hard for people to visualize the issues.

Not so fun fact: Microplastics are now even being found in clouds!

So What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, measuring less than five millimeters in diameter. They can be found in various forms, for example there are two main classifications.

The first being primary microplastics or microplastics intentionally created for commercial use such as microbeads in cosmetics or microfibers from textiles

The second being what we call secondary microplastics that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items. For example degradation of larger plastic items can be caused by a range of environmental factors like sunlight and ocean waves

While their small size may make them seem inconsequential, their widespread presence and persistence in the environment have raised concerns among scientists and policymakers alike.

What’s The Problem With Microplastics?

One of the defining characteristics of microplastics is their persistence in the environment. Unlike organic materials that naturally decompose, plastics can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down, if at all. This longevity means that once microplastics enter the environment, they can persist for generations, causing long-term harm. This build up of microplastics in various ecosystems, including oceans, rivers, and even remote areas like the Arctic, has far-reaching consequences for both wildlife and humans.

Microplastics in the Food Supply

As you’d expect with so many microplastics being in the sea, the presence of microplastics in commercial seafood is starting to raise concerns around human health. Studies have detected microplastics in various seafood items, including fish, shellfish, and even processed products.

Microplastics in the Drinking Water

And of course, this does go on to get even worse, as it’s not just microplastics in sea food. with these particles also being found in drinking water sources worldwide. Recent research has shown the presence of microplastics in almost all of our tap water, bottled water, and even remote freshwater sources. The ability of water treatment facilities to remove microplastics is limited, leaving consumers potentially exposed to these particles through their drinking water.

How Bad Is The Problem of Plastics In Our Food

Plastic Chemicals in Our Food

To assess the extent of plastic chemical contamination in our food, Consumer Reports conducted a comprehensive investigation. They tested 85 food products, ranging from beverages to meat and poultry, for the presence of BPA, bisphenols, phthalates, and their substitutes.

Shocking Findings

Consumer Reports found that 79% of the tested food products contained BPA and other bisphenols, although at lower levels than previous studies conducted in 2009, which is of course a small positive. However, the most concerning discovery was the elevated levels of phthalates found in most of the tested foods, including organic products. Phthalates were particularly prevalent in canned foods, beverages, fast food options, meat and poultry, and even baby food!

Fast Food Contamination

When specifically examining fast food options, Consumer Reports discovered alarmingly high levels of phthalate replacement compounds. For example, Moe's Southwest Grill Chicken Burrito contained a staggering 7,813,659 nanograms of these compounds per serving. Other popular fast food items, such as Wendy's Dave's Single Hamburger Patty, Burger King's Whopper With Cheese, and a large order of McDonald's French Fries, also had phthalate replacement levels exceeding 1,200,000 nanograms.

Organic Baby Food

Even organic baby food, often considered a healthier alternative, was not immune to plastic chemical contamination. However, the levels of phthalates in organic baby food were comparatively lower than in non-organic options. Brands like Happy Baby Organic Milk-Based Infant Powder Formula With Iron and Gerber Organic for Baby Pouch Apple Zucchini Spinach Strawberry had the least amount of phthalates among the tested baby food products.

Potential Health Risks of Microplastics

The health risks associated with microplastic exposure, particularly through ingestion, are still being investigated. Although all of the initial research looks very troubling

Whilst microplastics themselves may not be inherently toxic, they do still seem to cause harm as they build up. And on top of that they can act as carriers for other harmful chemicals present in the environment. These chemicals can adsorb onto the surface of microplastics and be ingested by organisms, potentially leading to adverse health effects.

The early studies have found the following, and it’s really quite concerning:

  • Ingested microplastics can cause physical irritation, inflammation, and changes in the intestinal microbiome. And because they are also carriers of environmental toxins, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms and chemical toxicity.
  • Inhalation of microplastics can result in respiratory and lung diseases, including inflammation, oxidative stress, and lipid metabolism disturbances.
  • Microplastics can also interfere with the endocrine system, leading to metabolic disorders, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders. It is currently theorized to be part of the cause for declining testosteorne rates in men. Additionally, microplastics have been associated with immune system modulation, chronic inflammation, and neurotoxicity.

Some Studies On The Dangers Of Microplastics

  1. "Assessment of Microplastic Contamination in Seafood and Its Implications for Human Health": This study finds that microplastics in seafood consumption can lead to chronic exposure to harmful chemicals such as phthalates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals are associated with endocrine disruption, reproductive issues, and an increased risk of cancer. Source
  2. "Airborne Microplastics: Inhalation Exposure and Potential Health Consequences": Research in this study reveals that inhaling airborne microplastics can cause respiratory irritation, aggravate asthma, and potentially lead to more severe lung conditions. Additionally, there is concern about systemic effects as these particles can enter the bloodstream. Source
  3. "Microplastics: an emerging threat to food security and human health": This investigation highlights the presence of microplastics on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables, which can introduce chemical contaminants into the human diet. Chronic exposure to these contaminants may contribute to metabolic disorders and other health issues. Source 
  4. "A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health": This study delves into the immunological responses triggered by microplastic exposure. It finds that microplastics may provoke chronic inflammation, weaken immune defenses, and potentially increase susceptibility to infections and autoimmune diseases. Source 
  5. "Microplastics in Freshwaters and Drinking Water": Research in this study confirms the presence of microplastics in drinking water sources. Prolonged ingestion of these particles may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, and there are concerns about the absorption of toxic substances from the microplastics into the body, potentially affecting organ function over time. Source 

What is Being Done About Microplastics?

Currently very little, the FDA currently allows the use of nine phthalates in food contact applications such as packaging. And whilst the agency has not authorized the use of phthalates directly in food, there isn’t much being done to deal with the contaminants.

In response to concerns raised by public interest groups, the FDA limited the use of certain phthalates in food contact products in 2022.

They also requested additional safety information on the remaining phthalates authorized for use as plasticizers in food. But, that’s about it for what’s being done at the moment and it really isn’t enough.

How Can I Reduce My Microplastic Intake

  1. Opt for Fresh Seafood: Choose fresh seafood over processed or canned options, as the latter may contain more microplastics due to packaging and processing.
  2. Filter Your Tap Water: Install a quality water filter that can effectively remove microplastics from your tap water, reducing the risk of microplastics entering your cooking and drinking water.
  3. Rinse Produce Thoroughly: Prior to consuming fruits and vegetables, wash them diligently under running water, using a brush if necessary, to remove potential surface microplastics. Of course, there is the issue of there being some within the water supply so you’d want to install the filter to your tap first.
  4. Reduce Packaged Foods: Minimize your consumption of heavily packaged and processed foods, as they are more likely to contain microplastics from packaging materials.
  5. Choose Glass or Stainless Steel Containers: When storing leftovers or food items, opt for glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic ones, which can release microplastics when exposed to heat or acidic foods. For example cola cans were seen to contain far less than their plastic counterparts.
Popular Posts

What Are The Best Fat Burners of 2024

Read More

What Are The Best Testosterone Boosters of 2024

Read More