In Brief

Plastic pollution accumulating in human organs, study finds

Scientists say the tiny particles may increase the risk of infertility and cancer

Potentially deadly particles of plastic chemicals used in products including food packaging and mobile phones have been found for the first time in major human organs, a new study warns. 

US researchers analysed 47 samples from a tissue bank originally established to study neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. All of the samples - which included tissue taken from kidneys, livers, lungs and spleens - contained traces of micro- and nano-plastics, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other health conditions. 

Microplastics “are typically less than 0.2in (5 mm) across, but so-called nanoplastic particles can be as small as a fiftieth of the width of a human hair”, according to Daily Mail.

Previous research has found that “microplastic particles had passed through the digestive systems of people across the globe”, says The Times. But the new study is the first to show that the plastics can also accumulate within human organs.

Presenting their results yesterday at the American Chemical Society Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting, the scientists revealed that the particles found included polycarbonate, polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate.

Polycarbonate “is used to make laptop and mobile phone cases, CDs, DVDs and safety glass”, while polyethylene is in “everything from shopping bags and plastic wrap to drain pipes and bullet proof vests”, the Mail reports.

“Meanwhile, polyethylene terephthalate - commonly known as PET - is used to make clothing fibres, plastic bottles and food containers.”

The team also found that all of the organ samples contained bisphenol A (BPA), “a common plastic ingredient that has been linked to fertility problems”, adds the i news site.

“We never want to be alarmist but it is concerning that these non-biodegradable materials can enter and accumulate in human tissues, and we don’t know the possible health effects,” said researcher Varun Kelkar, of the University of Illinois.

Study co-author Charles Rolsky, of Arizona State University, added: “There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies but very few studies have looked for it. At this point, we don’t know whether this plastic is just a nuisance or whether it represents a human health hazard.

“You can find plastics contaminating the environment at virtually every location on the globe, and in a few short decades we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat.”

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