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“They are everywhere, all around us”: Microplastic contamination is a growing problem with uncertain effects on health


There are no specific studies on toxicity in people so far. However, the harmful effects that have been detected in certain animals increase fears regarding its consequences for human health.

Microplastic contamination is increasing, not only in the oceans, mountains and in the air, but also in the human body. “10 years ago we did not imagine that there could be so many microplastics invisible to the naked eye and that they were everywhere, around us,” says French researcher Jean-Francois Ghiglione, from the Microbial Oceanography Laboratory in France.

There are more and more scientific studies around this problem that detect plastics in human organs. Although the experts did not conceive of the idea of ​​this happening, there is now evidence of findings in “the lungs, the spleen, the kidneys and even the placenta”, Ghiglione recently said in a dialogue with the AFP agency.

In April, an investigation carried out by the Hull York School of Medicine and the University of Hull (United Kingdom), detected traces of these contaminants for the first time in the depths of the lungs of living people undergoing surgery. “We know that there are microplastics in the air, we know that they surround us. The surprise for us was the depth to which they reached in the lungs and the size of these particles,” Laura Sadofsky, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the Hull York School and lead author of the study, told the French agency.

A month earlier, another team of scientists found remains of micro plastics in the blood of 80% of the 22 people included in their research. The remains found in half of the participants corresponded to PET plastics, used for making bottles, among other uses, while a third contained polystyrene, used for the production of plastic bags.

Real or potential danger?

Despite the findings, the scientific community agrees that it is still early to draw conclusions regarding the real danger of microplastics in humans, since there are still many questions in the air: Are microplastics retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs? Are these levels high enough to trigger disease?

“If you ask a scientist if there is a negative effect, he or she will say, ‘I don’t know.’ potentially a big problem, but we don’t have the scientific evidence to reliably confirm what the effects are, if there is”, explains to AFP, Bart Koelmans, professor of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality at Wageningen University (The Netherlands). toxicity in man. However, the damage that has been found in certain animals increases fears regarding its consequences for human health. “Small microplastics invisible to the naked eye have harmful effects on all the animals we have studied in the marine environment or in land”, emphasizes Ghiglione in this regard. The variety of chemical substances that make up plastics —such as dyes, stabilizers and retardants— can affect growth, metabolism, blood pressure and even reproduction, he details.

As for human health, there are only hypotheses about the appearance of certain debilitating syndromes . On the other hand, it is not ruled out that, although its presence in the body has only recently been identified, our species has been ingesting and breathing plastics for years. In any case, Ghiglione calls for to face this problem with “caution”, insisting on reducing the manufacture of packaging, bottles and other plastic products, as well as their consumption.

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