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Scientists sound alarm on findings in studies

By ANGUS MCNEICE in London | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-04-20 07:14

Delegates visit an art work during the resumed Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, last month. LONG LEI/XINHUA

Scientists are growing increasingly concerned that microscopic fragments of plastic in the foods we eat and the air we breathe could be having an impact on human health and development.

Recent studies have shown that microplastics are frequently detectable in human organs, including lungs and placentas, as well as the bloodstream, suggesting that inhaled and ingested plastics do not always pass out of the body.

Late last month, a team of researchers in the Netherlands detected microplastics in the blood of 17 out of 22 samples from anonymous donors.

Marja Lamoree, a chemistry professor at Vrije University in Amsterdam, said, "This dataset is the first of its kind and must be expanded to gain insight into how widespread plastic pollution is in the bodies of humans, and how harmful that may be.

"With this insight we can determine whether exposure to plastic particles poses a threat to public health," Lamoree said of the study, which was published in the journal Environment International.

Last year, researchers at San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome detected microplastics in placentas for the first time, raising questions over the potential health impact of plastics on pregnancy and fetal development.

Separate studies have shown that chemicals can leach out of plastic packaging and into food and drink. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as reduced fertility, hormone imbalance and metabolic disorders, including obesity.

Fay Couceiro, who is studying environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said, "Aside from the environmental damage caused by plastics, there is growing concern about what inhaling and ingesting microplastics is doing to our bodies."

Couceiro leads the Microplastics Research Group, which was set up this year by the university, which is also home to the Global Plastics Policy Center.

One of the first projects for the new research group will be an investigation into microplastics in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary and asthma.

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