Microplastics detected for the first time in human blood

In a small but very revealing experiment, researchers found microplastics in the blood of 77% of tested donors.

It is now well known that microplastics are a big problem both in terms of public health and for the environment; it is found from the highest peaks of Everest to the placenta of babies.

Work has already shown that they can cross our body to end up in our excrement, until today. Many researchers and clinicians therefore expected blood circulation to be no exception. Surprisingly, this hypothesis had never been officially confirmed…until today.

Plastic in 77% of samples

In any case, this is what the work of Dutch researchers from the Vrije Universiteit and the University Medical Center in Amsterdam seem to indicate. They collected blood samples from 22 healthy donors.

They then sifted through them looking for different polymers larger than 700nm, which is the most common definition of microplastics. At the end of the protocol, the researchers identified different types of microplastics in 17 samples, i.e. more than 77% of them.

Among these microplastics, the authors describe in particular particles of polyethylene terephthalate, better known as “PET”. It is the basis of many everyday products, including containers such as plastic bottles. The researchers also identified significant quantities of styrene, which is used in particular in the manufacture of polystyrene.

On all the samples, the researchers measured an average of1.6 micrograms of plastic per milliliter of blood, with a peak at 7 µg/mL from one of the anonymous donors.

A limited study and still scarce data…

These 22 subjects constitute a fairly small sample; it is even far too limited to be able to draw a conclusion on a large scale. But that does not mean that these works have no interest, quite the contrary; this is the first quantitative and qualitative measurement of blood microplastics ever documented in the scientific literature.

It is therefore a great and interesting first; this confirms that these compounds are indeed capable of infiltrating deep into our bodies. The researchers already suspected it, but this is a rather worrying confirmation. Because at present, researchers are still unable to determine with precision what will be the long term effects of these contaminants.

Indeed, it is a relatively recent problem, because it is intimately linked to the evolution of our industry. It took on a very particular dimension when plastic became more popular, and in particular since the appearance of PET in the 1970s. This means that we we are still sorely lacking in data to accurately estimate their impact at different levels.

… but an important and indisputable phenomenon

Intuition is obviously not enough to determine the dangerousness of microplastics. But other more tangible elements nevertheless point in this direction. And it starts with the founding principle of toxicology established in the Renaissance by Paracelsus: it’s the dose that makes the poison. And even if we still lack points of comparison, it seems probable that this dose increases as our exposure to microplastics increases.

Gold, this exposure is increasing visibly; and this time it is an indisputable observation, documented by numerous studies which are based on broader and more solid data. We find them today in four corners of the planet; their presence has already been documented from the highest peaks like theEverest at the deepest points the ocean, like the Mariana Trench.

And with regard to this criterion in particular, the situation is apparently going to continue to get worse. Work reported in The Conversation in 2020 estimated that the concentration of microplastics in the oceans could double by 2040with all that this implies in terms of blood concentration… and therefore public health.

Even if the study is quite restricted, it therefore lays down fundamental bases which will absolutely have to be deepened in the future. It will therefore be essential to carry out new studies on a larger scale; otherwise, it will be impossible to determine the extent and then the severity of the phenomenon.

This is very important, because it directly concerns our health, and in particular that of the youngest. “We know that babies and young children are generally more vulnerable to chemical exposure”, explains Dick Vethaak, ecotoxicologist author of the study interviewed by the Guardian. “It worries me a lot,” he concludes in a pessimistic tone.

The text of the study is available here.

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