A new study has found microplastics in human blood for the first time.
The discovery shows the particles can travel around the body and may lodge in organs. The impact on health is as yet unknown. But researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.*
Scientists analyzed blood samples from 22 healthy volunteers. Researchers adapted existing techniques to detect and analyze particles as small as 0.0007mm. Some of the blood samples contained two or three types of plastic. The team used steel syringe needles and glass tubes to avoid contamination, and tested for background levels of microplastics using blank samples.
A quantifiable mass of plastic particles were discovered in 17 of the samples, or nearly 80 percent of subjects.
Where are the microplastics coming from?
PET plastic, which is commonly used for beverage bottles, was detected in 50 percent of the samples. Polystyrene, utilized for packing food, was found in 36 percent of the samples, and polyethylene, which makes up plastic bags for food storage, was discovered in 23 percent of samples. PMMA was measured in 5 percent of samples.
The particles, which are known to be consumed through food, water and breathing had previously been found in feces of babies and adults, but this research marked the first time they were discovered in human blood.
“The big question is what is happening in our body? 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.”
-Dr. Dick Vethaak, ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands
*A recent study found that microplastics can latch on to the outer membranes of red blood cells and may limit their ability to transport oxygen. The particles have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women, and in pregnant rats they pass rapidly through the lungs into the hearts, brains and other organs of the fetuses.
Journal reference: H.A. Leslie, M. J. M. van Velzen, S.H. Brandsma, D. Vethaak, J.J. Garcia-Vallejo, M.H. Lamoree, Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood, Environment International Journal (2022), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2022.107199