UK researchers Evangelos Danopoulos, Maureen Twiddy, Robert West, and Jeanette M. Rotchell conducted an analysis of 17 previous studies on the toxicological impacts of microplastics on human cell lines. Using this information, they compared the levels at which cell damage occurred with the levels at which humans ingest microplastics, namely through seafood, table salt, and drinking water. Such levels of consumption resulted in undeniable cell harm, including allergic response, damage to cell walls, and cell death.
Also discovered was an indicator that could be used to predict a microplastic particle’s ability to inflict cell damage. The researchers found that irregularly-shaped microplastics caused more harm to human cells than their perfectly spherical counterparts, placing human cells at higher risk for cell death. This serves as priceless insight for microplastic research facilities, which normally use spheres for experimentation purposes.
The term “microplastics” has made its way into common vernacular over the last several years, and for good reason. The tiny particles—smaller than 5 millimeters in length—shed from plastic products and are known to float around almost every aspect of our environment, from the ocean and Antarctic ice to salt mines and water wells. They even find their way into our food and air: shellfish, salty seasonings, and indoor air have all been found to contain microplastics.
Scientists have known for at least a decade about the omnipresence of microplastics in consumables, and microplastics’ prevalence within human and animal bodies has incidentally formed an unfortunate new field of study. But the actual effects of such particles on the human body have been less clear; as of now, no one seems to know exactly how long microplastics remain in one’s system following ingestion. Danopoulos’, Twiddy’s, West’s, and Rotchell’s research appears to be the first to investigate just how damaging microplastics can be.
“We should be concerned. Right now, there isn’t really a way to protect ourselves,” Danopoulos told The Guardian. Though further research is required to determine which foods and products contain the most microplastics, the first logical step is to find ways to minimize microplastic output. “Once the plastic is in the environment, we can’t really get it out.”
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