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Environmental Health News
Boiling water might reduce microplastics
A new study points to boiling as a potential method to lessen microplastic pollution in drinking water.Saul Elbein reports for The Hill.In short:Boiling tap water could eliminate about 80% of certain microplastics.The technique, common in East Asian cooking, may be more effective than bottled water, which has high nanoplastic content.There are some caveats to the research: scientists only looked at three of the most common plastic polymers, for example.Why this matters:The discovery offers a practical tip for reducing microplastic ingestion, linking to wider concerns about environmental pollutants affecting human health, amidst debates over the safety threshold for plastic exposure. Scientists criticize current regulatory approaches to determining chemical toxicity, suggesting no level of exposure to certain compounds may be safe.
PlastChem: State-of-the-science of hazardous chemicals in plastic
A March 14 online event will launch this new state-of-the science report from the PlastChem project about chemicals of concern in plastics and ways to address them.
Microplastics pervade human placentas, raising health alarms
A recent study reveals the alarming presence of microplastics in every human placenta tested, spotlighting potential risks to fetal development.Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian.In short:Researchers found polyethylene, a common plastic, in 62 placental tissue samples, indicating widespread contamination.The study also discovered microplastics in human arteries, suggesting a possible link to vascular blockages.This contamination adds to growing evidence of microplastics in human bodies, raising concerns over their health impacts.Key quote:”If we are seeing effects on placentas, then all mammalian life on this planet could be impacted. That’s not good.”— Matthew Campen, researcher at the University of New Mexico.Why this matters:Studies have found microplastics in human tissues and organs, including the lungs and blood, raising questions about their impact on human health. While the full extent of these impacts remains under investigation, there is concern that microplastics could cause inflammation or carry harmful chemicals into the body, posing risks to human health.Researchers say that more microplastics pollution is getting into farm soil than oceans—and these tiny bits are showing up in our fruits, veggies, and bodies.
New study finds microplastics in all human placentas tested
A study published in Toxicological Sciences used new tools to detect microplastics in human placentas, and found microplastics in all 62 of the placentas sampled. In short: Polyethylene, which is used to make plastic bags and bottles, accounted for 54% of the microplastics found. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – which contains the toxic chemical vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen – accounted for another 10% of the microplastics detected. Key quote: “If we’re seeing effects on placentas, then all mammalian life on this planet could be impacted. That’s not good.” – Study author Matthew Campen, PhD, via UNM Health Sciences’ press release Why this matters: Plastic use has continued to grow exponentially since the mid-twentieth century, with nearly a metric ton of plastic waste produced for every person on the planet. Recent studies have confirmed that microplastics are present in everything from bottled water to meat and plant-based foods. With growing evidence of microplastics’ ability to accumulate in human tissue – and potentially even cross through cell membranes – the authors of this study point to the urgent need for more research on the potential health impacts they carry. Related EHN coverage: “Plastic will overwhelm us:” Scientists say health should be the core of global plastic treaty How do microplastics impact our gut health? More resources: CUSP is a European research cluster focused on understanding the health impacts of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs). Their website includes resources on new science, events, and health research. Garcia, Marcus et al. for Toxicological Sciences. Feb. 17, 2024, and the UNM Health Sciences’ accompanying press release.Science summaries are produced by the EHS science team, including HEEDS.
EU’s recycled content rules stir controversy
The European Commission is proposing more lenient standards for what counts as recycled material in products, a decision that aligns with the chemical industry’s interests.Leonie Cater reports for POLITICO.In short:The European Commission suggests relaxing the criteria for calculating recycled content in consumer goods.This proposal has sparked concerns of greenwashing, as it may allow companies to claim higher levels of recycling than actually achieved.Critics argue this could undermine efforts to combat plastic pollution and mislead consumers about the environmental impact of their purchases.Key quote:“This is, for me, a really high risk of greenwashing.”— Lauriane Veillard, policy officer at Zero Waste Europe.Why this matters:At a time when the world is grappling with plastic pollution and climate change, ensuring transparent and rigorous standards for recycled content is crucial for genuine progress. Chemical recycling — an umbrella term used to describe processes that break plastic waste down into molecular building blocks with high heat or chemicals and convert them into new products — will not help reduce plastic pollution, but rather exacerbate environmental problems, according to a report by nonprofit environmental advocacy groups Beyond Plastics and the International Pollutants Elimination Network.
Rethinking the environmental impact of medical devices
There are significant challenges in recycling medical devices like inhalers and EpiPens, which are crucial for many yet pose a considerable environmental burden. Despite the lifesaving nature of these items, their disposal contributes to the global plastic crisis, prompting a search for sustainable solutions.Ted Alcorn reports for The New York Times.In short:Disposable medical devices, essential for many patients, significantly add to environmental pollution due to their plastic content.Efforts to recycle these items face hurdles, including technical challenges and low public participation in take-back programs.Innovators and companies are exploring solutions, such as redesigning products for better recyclability and using sustainable materials.Key quote:”I’m using this lifesaving product, but in order for me to use it, I’ve got to be willing to damage the environment.”— Brian Brandell, biomedical engineer.Why this matters:As the medical industry grapples with its role in plastic pollution, finding a balance between patient care and environmental protection is essential for future policies and innovations. Capping plastics production is a key point of debate. Fifty-eight countries, aligned in a group called the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, want to see a treaty that slows production.