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Microplastics Found In Human Feces Highlight Plastic Problem: First-Of-Its-Kind Study

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Microplastics were discovered in samples of human feces from different parts of the world. How did the samples get contaminated?

Microplastics Found In Human Feces

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria looked at microplastic contamination in the food that humans eat by examining fecal samples to check whether this may have a potential health impact. So far, the data on the matter is scarce, and this is the first time that researchers are looking at human feces in search of potential microplastics residue.

Researchers took feces samples from eight individuals from eight different countries, namely Italy, Finland, Japan, UK, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and Austria, and found traces of microplastics in every single one of them. In fact, every stool sample tested positive for up to nine different types of plastic, and each one had an average of 20 particles of plastic per 10 grams of stool. Further, all eight samples were found to be contaminated with polypropylene and polyethylene-terephthalate, the main component of plastic bottles and plastic bottle caps.

Contamination From Plastic Food Packaging

None of the participants were vegetarians, and all of them ate their regular diets and submitted a food diary for the week before they submitted the stool samples. Six of the participants consumed wild fish, and researchers found that all of them were exposed to the microplastics from consuming food and beverages, which were wrapped or packaged in plastic.

Lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna says that he did not expect all the samples to turn up positive for microplastics and that they are now looking at whether this may impact human health in any way.

The concern, according to him, is whether the microplastics could enter the bloodstream and reach the lymphatic system or the liver. This is because, in past animal studies, exposure to microplastics caused liver stress and intestinal damage. Further, many of the additives in plastics are already known to be endocrine disrupters.

The results of the study are to be presented at the 26th United European Gastroenterology conference to be held this week in Vienna, Austria.

Microplastics

Plastic pollution is a major global problem, with humans producing over 400 million metric tons of plastic pollution each year, but apart from the plastic pollution reaching lakes and covering landfills, its smaller particles called microplastics are also a major cause of concern.

Simply put, microplastics are plastic debris that are less than 5 millimeters in length. They come from a variety of sources, from larger plastics that have already broken down to microbeads that are commonly placed in health and beauty products such as toothpaste and facial cleansers.

Not a lot is known yet about the impacts of microplastics, which is why programs such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program are continuous in their testing and research concerning plastic and microplastic pollution.

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