Study: Microplasty found for the first time in humans

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Microplasty detected for the first time in human stool samples
Microplasty could not only be detected in the oceans, but also in the air, in drinking water and in food. Now, for the first time, tiny plastic particles have also been discovered in human stool samples. In the future, the effects of plastic on the human organism should be investigated further.

Plastic particles in food and drinking water
In recent years, various scientific studies have shown how widespread exposure to microplastics has become. Scientists have found plastic particles in drinking water and beer. Plastic particles have also been discovered in foods such as sea salt and fish. It is therefore not surprising that researchers have now for the first time also detected microplastics in humans.

Microplasty discovered in human stool for the first time
In a study conducted by the Austrian Federal Environment Agency and the Medical University of Vienna, microplasty was discovered in the human stool for the first time – in all of the eight international participants.

As the university reports in a press release, the five women and three men aged 33 to 65 live in Finland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Japan and Austria.

The subjects kept a nutrition diary for one week and then gave a stool sample.

According to the data, the study participants consumed food or beverages from PET bottles packaged in plastic, the majority consumed fish or seafood, and no one had a vegetarian diet.

PP and PET were most common
In the laboratory, scientists from the Austrian Federal Environment Agency analysed the participants’ chairs with regard to ten of the most widely used plastics in the world.

In all eight people, microplastics were discovered in the stool, an average of 20 microplastic particles per ten grams of stool.

“In our laboratory, we were able to detect nine different types of plastic in sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometers,” explained Bettina Liebmann, the expert at the Federal Environment Agency responsible for microplastic analyses.

PP (polypropylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) were most frequently found in the samples.

Effects on the human organism
“Due to the small number of subjects, we are unable to establish a reliable connection between nutritional behaviour and exposure to microplasty,” said first author Philipp Schwabl from the Clinical Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at MedUni Vienna.

According to the expert, “the effects of the found microplastic particles on the human organism” – especially on the digestive tract – “can only be investigated in the context of a larger study”.

According to the report, other studies in animals showed the highest microplastic concentrations in the gastrointestinal tract, but the smallest plastic particles were also found in blood, lymph and even in the liver.

“Although there are first indications that microplasty can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances, further studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplasty for humans,” said Schwabl.

Global plastic production has grown rapidly
Plastic particles smaller than five millimeters are called microplastics. This is used, among other things, as an additive in cosmetic products, but is primarily caused unintentionally by the shredding, abrasion or decomposition of larger plastic parts in the environment.

Worldwide plastic production has grown rapidly since the 1950s and currently stands at over 400 million tons per year.

It is estimated that two to five percent of the plastic produced ends up in the sea. According to scientific studies, plastic waste can now be found in all marine regions. Plastic waste has even been discovered in Arctic waters.

In the oceans, the waste is crushed and taken up by marine animals and can then reach humans via the food chain.

In addition, it is very likely that food comes into contact with plastics – and thus also with microplastics – during processing or through packaging. (ad)

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