Humans consuming huge amounts of microplastics

Humans are unknowingly consuming tens of thousands of plastic particles per year, according to a new study from the University of Victoria. This problem require more research to understand the potential health impacts.

At just under five millimetres in diameter, or smaller than the size of a sesame seed, microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that come from the degradation of larger plastic products or the shedding of particles from water bottles, plastic packaging and synthetic clothes.

These particles can easily sneak into our bodies undetected through food or when we breathe air containing microplastics, says Kieran Cox, a marine biology PhD candidate at the University of Victoria.

“Human reliance on plastic packaging and food processing methods for major food groups such as meats, fruits and veggies is a growing problem. Our research suggests microplastics will continue to be found in the majority – if not all – of items intended for human consumption,” says Cox.

“We need to reassess our reliance on synthetic materials and alter how we manage them to change our relationship with plastics.”

Cox and his colleagues reviewed 26 previous studies and analyzed the amount of microplastics in fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, alcohol, water and air, which accounted for 15 per cent of Americans’ caloric intake.

By looking at the amounts of these foods people ate, based on their age, sex and dietary recommendations, the team was able to estimate that a person’s average microplastic consumption is between 70,000 and 121,000 particles per year, with rates rising up to 100,000 for those who drank only bottled water.

While the majority of research to date has focused on seafood, the new study indicates that a significant amount of the plastic humans consume may be in the air we breathe or water we drink.

This is why Cox believes that more research is needed on microplastic levels in our foods – particularly major food groups like beef, poultry, dairy and grains – in order to understand health impacts and the broader problem of plastic pollution.

Image credit: MPCA Photos via Flickr

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