By Javan Flowers
Microplastics have been detected in human blood for the first time, with scientists finding multiple types of plastics in almost 80% of the people tested.
Speaking with The Guardian Weekly, Professor Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije University, remarked, "Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood."
The scientists analyzed blood samples from 22 anonymous donors and found plastic particles in 17. Almost half of the confirmed samples contained PET plastics, commonly used in plastic bottles; a third contained polystyrene, which is used for packaging food and other products; while the remainder of the samples included polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.
The report demonstrated that the particles could travel around the body and have the potential to lodge in organs. The impact on health is unknown, but researchers are gravely concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in isolated laboratory experiments. This, combined with air pollution particles already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year, could manifest into substantially worse medical implications, further increasing mortalities caused by plastic pollution.
Notably, Vethaak acknowledged that the amount and type of plastic varied considerably between the blood samples. "But this is a pioneering study," he said, with more work now needed. Vethaak further elaborated that the differences might reflect short-term exposure before the blood samples were taken, such as drinking from plastic-lined coffee cups or wearing a plastic face mask.
Notably, he also mentioned that previous work had shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in babies' feces compared with adults and that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day.