Microplastics Found in Human Blood for the First Time, and May Also Be Transported to Organs
Microplastics found from the US Chesapeake Bay.

Microplastics have been discovered in human blood for the first time, with scientists warning that these mostly invisible pieces of plastic could also make their way into organs, in a new study examining blood samples of 22 anonymous, healthy adult volunteers.

The study, published in the Environment International journal Thursday, found that 17 of 22 blood samples drawn from a group of volunteers in the Netherlands, or 80%, had some concentration of microplastics.

Additionally, half of the blood samples showed traces of PET plastic, which is widely used to make drink bottles, while more than a third had polystyrene, which is used for disposable food containers, electronics, automobile parts, and other products. Almost a quarter had polyethylene, the most commonly used plastic today. 

“This is the first time we have actually been able to detect and quantify” such microplastics in human blood, said Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije University in Amsterdam, and one of the authors of the study.

“This is proof that we have plastics in our body, and we shouldn’t,” he told AFP, calling for further research to investigate how it could be impacting health.

“Where is it going in your body? Can it be eliminated? Excreted? Or is it retained in certain organs, accumulating maybe, or is it even able to pass the blood-brain barrier?” 

The study noted that “it is scientifically plausible that plastic particles may be transported to organs via the bloodstream.”

‘Unequivocal’ proof that plastics pervade both environment and people 

Plastics at a local municipal recycling center.

While the fate of plastic particles in the bloodstream needs “further study”, scientist Alice Horton, of Britain’s National Oceanography, said that this “unequivocally” proved there was microplastics in blood. 

“The study contributes to the evidence that plastic particles have not just pervaded throughout the environment, but are pervading our bodies too,” Horton told the Science Media Center.

Uptake of plastic particulates is likely either through ingestion or inhalation, the study suggests.

These ubiquitous pollutants already make their home in our soil and food systems, as well as in the ocean, air, and our health systems. As a result, some 175 UN member states had agreed to negotiate a landmark treaty by 2024 to curb plastics pollution earlier this month.

Other studies have shown the human placenta able to absorb 50, 80, and 240 nanometer polystyrene beads, and possibly also microsized polypropylene, a plastic used for packaging in cleaning products, bleaches, and first-aid products. 

Despite the small sample size and lack of data on exposure level of the participants, Fay Couceiro, reader in biogeochemistry and environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth, says that the study was “robust and will stand up to scrutiny.”

“Blood links all the organs of our body, it could be anywhere in us,” Couceiro told AFP.

Image Credits: Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program, JoLynne Martinez/Flickr.

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