Researchers in Europe say they have discovered microplastics in human blood for the first time ever.
Speaking to The Guardian on Thursday, Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said that their “study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood–it’s a breakthrough result.” However, more studies are needed, he said.
“But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.,” he continued.
Scientists in the Netherlands obtained blood samples from 22 anonymous healthy adult donors, analyzing them for particles as small as 0.00002 of an inch. Seventeen, or 77.2 percent, had microplastics in their blood, according to the study.
Their research was published in Environment International, testing for five types of plastic: polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
And the term microplastic, they added, refers to “plastic particles for which no universally established definition exists” but in some scientific literature, it is “often defined as plastic particles up to 5 mm in dimensions with no defined lower size limit.”
They stipulated that the plastic particles that were analyzed in their study can be “absorbed across membranes in the human body,” targeting particles that “that could be retained on a filter with pore size of 700 nm (nanometers),” meaning they are particles that are 700 nanometers or greater in dimension.
“It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak told The Guardian. “The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.”
Previous work has shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in the fecal matter of babies compared with adults, he said, adding that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing numerous microplastic particles each day.
“We also know in general that babies and young children are more vulnerable to chemical and particle exposure,” Vethaak also said. “That worries me a lot.”
The health effects of ingesting microplastics are not clear. A University of Hull study published in 2021 asserted that they can cause cellular death or allergic reactions.
“The big question is what is happening in our body?” Vethaak told The Guardian. “Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, such as getting past the blood-brain barrier?” And are these levels sufficiently high to trigger disease? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out.”
The study was, in part, commissioned by Common Seas, an activist group that pushes for new policies to deal with plastic pollution and contamination, according to the paper.