Are ‘pre-polluted’ babies the new normal?

Researchers find microplastics in human placentas, calling the presence of the particles ‘a matter of great concern.’

Just when you thought our plastic pollution problem couldn’t get any worse, Italian researchers have found microplastics in the placentas of human fetuses. While we don’t yet know the health implications of this finding, the researchers concluded that the presence of these particles “is a matter of great concern.”

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic, less than 5 mm (0.2 inch) in length, that are found in the environment as a consequence of plastic pollution. In other words, they are plastic pollution’s plastic pollution. Awesome.

Given that the placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to a fetus and removes waste products from its blood, it is pretty safe to assume that having a placenta chock-full of plastic, no matter the size, is probably less than ideal.

Disturbingly, it wasn’t out of the ordinary that the plastic particles, most of which were 0.01 mm in size and therefore able to be carried in the bloodstream, made their way into the bodies of the four healthy women studied by the researchers, and potentially the bodies of their children. In fact, it was the contrary.

The Guardian reports: “[a]ll the particles analysed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may have originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products.”

“Humans consume microplastics via many channels,” National Geographic explains in a 2019 article discussing recent research into the subject. “We might ingest them while eating seafood, breath[e] them in through the air, or consume food with trace amounts of its plastic packaging.”

Another study published this year revealed quite eerily that when pregnant laboratory rats inhaled microplastics, they appeared in various organs of their fetuses, including the brain.

Plastic has become so ubiquitous that we are becoming plastic. Elizabeth Salter Green from the charity Chem Trust puts it perfectly: “Babies are being born pre-polluted.”

By continuing our gross misuse of plastic, an extraordinary material when used responsibly, we have allowed it to weasel its way into not just every facet of daily life, but our bodies, too. And now, thanks to increased study of this environmental and perhaps even ethical quandary, microplastic’s potential impact on fetal development is beginning to come to light.

Now, before you pack your bags and move to a remote mountainous region to live off the land for the rest of your days (though this would be futile, as microplastic has even been found on Mount Everest), it is important to note that microplastic’s effect in the body is not yet known and that the babies in this study had normal births.

But it does make you wonder: has humanity’s overwhelmingly collective resignation when it comes to plastic pollution simply gone too far?

As it turns out, you don’t need a plastic six pack ring around your neck to choke you. It’s already inside your body as we speak.

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