Recently, a team of researchers from Arizona State University has discovered micro and nanoplastics in human tissues and organs. The study was presented at the American Chemical Society's virtual expo.
It is becoming worrisome how plastic materials are infiltrating every nook and cranny of the earth. According to Plastic Europe, more than 330 million metric tons of plastic materials are produced globally, and most are non-biodegradable. With time, these plastic materials are breaking down into small fragments, giving rise to microplastics (<5 mm) and nanoplastics (<0.001 mm). Studies have found that these plastic waste materials are associated with severe health complications, including diabetes, obesity, infertility, cardiovascular disorders, neurological problems, and cancer.
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The current study
Given the severe impact of plastic waste materials on the earth's ecosystem, the researchers of the current study aimed at investigating whether microplastics can invade human organs as well. They carried out the experiments using 47 human tissue samples isolated from the lungs, liver, kidneys, and spleen.
Using a mass spectrometer, they analyzed all the samples for detecting traces of microplastics in human organs. Surprisingly, they found the presence of bisphenol A in all the tissue samples. Bisphenol A, which is frequently used in plastic industries to manufacture food containers, is a plastic component with many known health hazards, including cardiovascular problems. In addition, other plastic components that were also found in the tissue samples include polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate, and polyethylene.
Innovative experimental method developed by the researchers
For the experiments, the researchers collected the tissue samples from a pre-existing repository of brain and body tissues that was initially developed to study neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.
For the analysis, the research developed a computer-based programming tool that converts information about plastic particle count into mass and surface area units, and they thought of sharing the tool online to provide a standardized platform for every researcher in this field. However, they mentioned that for effective screening and identification of plastic components in human tissues, it is vital to get rid of potential contaminants, such as microplastics from the air.
The researchers mentioned that they still do not know if these plastic components are hazardous to human health; however, the fact that plastic waste materials can invade the human system and accumulate in various tissues and organs is itself very alarming.
They are presently conducting a detailed study to gather information about locations and extent of accumulation of plastic components in different tissues and organs of the human body. With all information in hand, the researchers believed that they would be able to conduct epidemiological studies to find out the potential health impacts of these materials.
Significance of the study
In this study, the tissue samples were collected from people who are known to have environmental exposure. With the thorough information about the lifestyle, diet, and occupational exposures of the tissue donors, this study is the first of its kind to provide evidence on potential sources and routes of exposure to micro and nanoplastic components.
In addition, the findings of the study can now be utilized to assess the significant impacts of plastic pollution on human health.