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Tiny particles of plastic have been found in human blood

An ‘extremely concerning study’ has detected microplastic pollution in human blood for the first time, with scientists warning that the long-term consequences are not yet known.

Just when you thought our plastic pollution problem couldn’t get any worse, a recent study has detected tiny particles of the stuff in human blood for the first time.

While we’re yet to know the long-term health implications of this finding, scientists have deemed their presence in 80% of participants – samples from 22 anonymous donors were analysed – a matter of ‘extreme concern.’

Particularly considering that this issue is already resulting in the deaths of between 400,000 and a million people from low-income communities living close to landfills annually.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic, undetectable to the human eye and less than 5 mm (0.2 inches) in length, that have triggered a furore amongst environmentalists given traces of the material have been discovered almost everywhere on Earth.

PET bottle flake

This is because, each year, 30 million metric tons of plastic (which takes over 1000 years to degrade) is dumped on land, almost 50 million metric tons are burned, and another 11 million ends up in the ocean.

By 2040, these figures could be 77 million, 133 million, and 29 million respectively.

Albeit disturbingly, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise therefore that so many of us have been inhaling the fragments of everyday items on a daily basis and that some of this residue has made its way into our bloodstreams.

According to the report, the most common detected plastic was PET, which is used in bottles, followed by polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products, then polyethylene, from which carrier bags are made.

<p>‘People apparently ingest or inhale so much plastic that it can be found in the bloodstream’, says Professor Dick Vethaak, who led the research</p>

Published in the Environment International journal and funded by the National Organisation for Health Research and Development and Common Seas (a social enterprise working to reduce plastic pollution), the study adapted existing techniques to detect and analyse particles as small as 0.0007mm.

Using steel syringe needles and glass tubes to avoid contamination, the team involved tested for background levels of microplastics using blank samples.

‘Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – ​it’s a breakthrough result,’ ecotoxicologist Professor Dick Vethaak tells the Guardian, adding that previous work has shown microplastics to be 10 times higher in the faeces of babies compared with adults, which proves that young children are more vulnerable to exposure.

‘It is certainly reasonable to be concerned. The particles are there and are transported throughout the body, lodging in organs, and causing significant damage to fragile cells.’

A new study has found out a concerning fact about microplastics in the human body. Photo: PA

For this reason, Vethaak stresses the urgency of improving funding for this kind of research, explaining that we have a right to know what this is doing to our bodies, whether that be getting past the blood-brain barrier or impacting our immune systems and increasing our risk of catching diseases.

Thankfully, 80 NGOs, scientists, and MPs are currently petitioning for the UK government to allocate £15m to this cause, citing the fact that microplastics have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women to reinforce their pleas.

‘More detailed research on how micro and nano-plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether and how they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed, particularly in light of the exponential increase in plastic production,’ concludes Vethaak.

‘The problem is becoming more urgent with each day.’