Microplastics from food wrappers and used bottles found deep in the lungs of living people for the first time


Microplastics are found in the water we drink and in the food we eat.SolStock/Getty Images

  • Tiny plastic particles are found in our food, water and blood, and experts don’t know how they affect our health.

  • Scientists have found microplastics in samples taken from living human lungs.

  • Recent research has also found similar particles in human blood and feces.

Scientists have found tiny pieces of plastic in the lungs of living humans, adding to concerns about the health impact of microplastics.

Pieces of plastic dust have been floating around in our environment since humans have been using plastic, but scientists have only recently begun to study how these particles can affect our health. Microplastics are by definition smaller than a pencil eraser, so humans and animals can inhale or ingest them unknowingly.

Previous studies have identified microplastics in human stool and autopsy samples, but this is the first time scientists have found plastic particles lodged in the lungs of living patients.

A team of researchers from Hull York Medical School in the UK analyzed lung tissue taken from 13 patients undergoing surgeries – a relatively small sample, the authors noted. But among that select group, samples from 11 patients contained microplastics, according to findings described in the journal Science of The Total Environment.

The researchers found microplastics at all levels of the lungs — upper, middle, and lower lung regions — but the level of pollution in the lower lungs was particularly surprising, one author noted.

“We didn’t expect to find the greatest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the size we found,” Laura Sadofsky, lead author of the study, told The Guardian. “This is surprising because the airways are smaller in the lower parts of the lungs and we would have expected particles of these sizes to be filtered out or trapped before reaching this depth.”

The types of plastic they found are most commonly used in soft drink bottles, food packaging and machinery parts. While scientists don’t yet know how plastics would affect lung health or otherwise, this finding underscores the widespread and persistent nature of microplastic pollution.

Microplastics have also been found in human blood and poo

Microplastics are found in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, experts previously told Insider. By one estimate, the average person ingests about the equivalent of a plastic credit card each week.

Some of this plastic leaves our bodies the old fashioned way: via the digestive tract. Studies that found microplastics in human feces proved that the pollutants pass through our bodies, but there wasn’t enough evidence for scientists to sound the alarm about the health risks.

However, the more recent discovery of microplastics in human blood has confirmed that some plastic particles are absorbed into the bloodstream. Experts aren’t sure how this exposure to plastic affects human health, but they said it was “troubling news.”

Scientists will continue to test human blood, as well as intestinal and lung tissue, to better understand the impact of microplastic pollution.

Read the original Insider article


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