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Microplastic Pollution and Its Impact on Human Health

Somnath Soni, PhD IIT Roorkee

Email: som_n@es.iitr.ac.in

In recent years have seen a major increase in the concern about microplastic pollution for the environment and public health. Microplastics are small fragments of plastic that have less than 5 mm in diameter. Microplastics are either produced as small particles by the plastic industry or are the result of fragmentation of plastic waste breaking apart (Arthur et al., 2009). Microplastics particles are everywhere; they can be found in rivers, soil, air, and oceans. Studies on the effects of microplastic pollution on human health are becoming more and more prevalent, and they have identified a number of possible entry points for these particles into the body.

 

1. Sources of microplastics

Microplastics come into the environment from various sources. Primary microplastics are intentionally manufactured at small sizes for use in products such as cosmetics, cleaning agents, and industrial abrasives (Gregory, 1996) and domestic applications (Fendall and Sewell, 2009); they can also be released by spilling virgin plastic pellets (mm) (Thompson et al., 2009). Secondary microplastics result from the degradation of larger plastic items, such as plastic bags, bottles, and fishing nets, through environmental weathering processes like UV radiation and mechanical abrasion (GESAMP, 2015). 

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Figure 1. Diagram illustrating the sources of microplastics in the environment

2. Routes of Human Exposure

Microplastics mostly enter the human body through food and respiration. These particles have been found in a wide range of food and drink products, such as bottled water, shellfish, and salt (Smith et al., 2018). Additionally, microplastics are present in the air, particularly in urban environments, leading to inhalation exposure (Prata, 2018). below important mode of microplastic pollutant through which it enters into the human body and moves to another body part.

2.1 Consumption of Microplastics

The ingestion of microplastics can occur directly through contaminated food and water or indirectly through the consumption of organisms that have ingested microplastics themselves. Studies have found microplastics in a variety of foods, with seafood being a major source due to the high levels of contamination in marine environments (Lusher et al., 2017). Bottled water has also been found to contain microplastic particles, sometimes at higher concentrations than tap water (Mason et al., 2018). The physical presence of microplastics in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to several adverse effects. Research indicates that microplastics can cause inflammation and disrupt the gut microbiota, which plays a crucial role in digestion and immune function (Ding et al., 2020). Additionally, the ingestion of microplastics can lead to oxidative stress, resulting in cellular damage and inflammation (Lu et al., 2018).

2.2. Inhalation of Microplastics

Microplastics are also found in the air, particularly in dust and atmospheric fallout. Urban areas are particularly affected due to higher concentrations of airborne microplastics from sources like tire wear particles, synthetic fibers from textiles, and construction materials (Dris et al., 2016). Inhalation of these particles can lead to respiratory issues. Studies on animals have shown that inhaled microplastics can induce inflammation and other adverse effects in the respiratory system (Furukawa et al., 2019). 

2.3 Translocation and accumulation

There is growing evidence that microplastics can translocate from the gastrointestinal area to other parts of the of human body. Studies have shown that microplastics can enter the bloodstream and reach vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, and even the brain (Wright & Kelly, 2017). The long-term accumulation of microplastics in human tissues and its health implications are still under investigation. However, chronic exposure to microplastics and their associated chemicals raises concerns about potential long-term health effects. Public health initiatives are essential to mitigate human exposure to microplastics. These include reducing plastic use, improving waste management practices, and promoting the development of biodegradable alternatives. Increased public awareness and regulation at both national and international levels are crucial to addressing the issue of microplastic pollution and safeguarding human health.

3. Conclusion

Microplastic pollution represents a significant environmental and public health challenge. The pervasive nature of microplastics in the environment leads to various exposure routes for humans, primarily through ingestion and inhalation. The potential health impacts of microplastics include physical effects on the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, chemical exposure from associated pollutants and additives, and possible translocation to and accumulation in vital organs. In points following impact could be happen in human body because of microplastic:

  1. Microplastics can trigger the release of hormone disruptors in the human body.

  2. They could absorb and carry toxic substances like heavy metals and organic pollutants, which can harm human health.

  3. Individuals with heart disease may face heightened risks of cardiovascular issues due to microplastic exposure.

  4. Studies have indicated that microplastics could double the risk of stroke or heart attack.

References: 

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  • Ding, J., Li, J., Sun, C., Jiang, F., He, C., Zhang, M., & Ding, N. X. (2020). Detection of microplastics in local marine organisms using a multi-technology system. Analytical Methods, 12(6), 746-751.

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