Microplastics are everywhere — including in us


Published:

Plastic is in the air. Well, plastic is really everywhere.

Besides the obvious places, like oceans and land, studies have found small particles of plastic, known as microplastics, in the air, tap and bottled water, beer, table salt and, most recently, in a human stool.

Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long, which is about the size of a sesame seed. These tiny pieces of plastic can make it into waterways and will never biodegrade. They might be in the form of microbeads, found in toothpaste, facial scrubs and other cosmetic and personal-care products; and fibers, released when washing synthetic fabric; fragments, a result from bigger pieces of plastic broken down by sunlight; or dust, blown from construction sites.

“The average American may be inadvertently swallowing as many as 50,000 microplastic particles every year because of contaminated food,” reports ChemistryWorld.com. That estimate derives from the consumption of recommended amounts of seafood, sugars, salt and beer.

That number might be higher if bottled water is the to-go source of drinking water. According to ChemistryWorld.com, “researchers calculated that an adult drinking only bottled water may be ingesting an additional 75,000 to 127,000 pieces of microplastic each year compared to just 3,000 to 6,000 for tap water.”

As this represents an emerging field of study, scientists do not know yet how microplastics might affect human health but preliminary studies already confirmed that humans are ingesting those plastics.

Smithsonian reported toward the end of 2018 that “a team of Austrian researchers led by Philipp Schwabl, a physician-scientist at the Medical University of Vienna, asked eight participants from eight different countries — Austria, Italy, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom — to track their food consumption during the course of one week and provide a stool sample at the end of the testing window.”

Scientists analyzed the samples and found an average of 20 microplastic particles present in every 10 grams of feces and all eight participants tested positive for plastics.

Because of its size, microplastics pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and Great Lakes. This poses a potential threat to aquatic life and possibly to human life, too, according to oceanservice.noaa.

In 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, banning plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. That was a step forward in reducing plastic pollution generated, but more needs to be done. Reducing the production and use of plastic will reduce the amount of plastic waste generated.

Every corporation, business, organization and individual should be doing their part to cut down on plastic waste — however they can. Even though plastic is already everywhere, it would be good to believe that we can reverse that once cutting down is the selected choice.

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@RecycleBrevard.org.