Detecting Microplastics in Human Placenta tissue with Pyrolysis-GC-MS

Global production of plastic has resulted in the massive release of nano- and micro-plastics. Microplastics have found their way into humans, and scientists are developing a new methods to detect them. In one study, scientists found microplastics present in all 62 placentas tested from people who had recently given birth. They found various types of plastics, including polyethylene, PVC, and nylon.

The team’s methodology included saponification and ultracentrifugation to extract solid material from human placental tissue samples. They used highly specific and quantitative analysis of plastic with pyrolysis-gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (Py-GC-MS). Placenta tissues were analyzed with fluorescence microscopy and automated particle count, which showed presence of micro-sized particles but not nano sized particles. Compared to other methodologies and tools, PY-GC-MS detected microplastics in all placenta samples.

The data that Py-GC-MS shows advancements in unbiased quantitative resolution and its application to detect microplastics in human placenta tissue samples. This method, with clinical data, could be essential to understanding the potential impacts of microplastics on pregnancy outcomes.

Scientists find that some compostable plastics have similar or even higher levels of toxicity than plastic products, when it comes to chemical additives. These findings suggest that additives in bioplastics and other plant-based compostables must be carefully evaluated before use.

Abstract: This study investigates the toxicity of methanolic extracts obtained from compostable plastics (BPs) and conventional plastics (both virgin and recycled). Additionally, it explores the potential influence of plastic photodegradation and composting on toxic responses using a battery of in vitro assays conducted in PLHC-1 cells. The extracts of BPs, but not those of conventional plastics, induced a significant decrease in cell viability (<70%) in PLHC-1 cells after 24 h of exposure. Toxicity was enhanced by either photodegradation or composting of BPs. Extracts of conventional plastics, and particularly those of recycled plastics, induced 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity and micronucleus formation in exposed cells, indicating the presence of significant amounts of CYP1A inducers and genotoxic compounds in the extracts, which was enhanced by photodegradation. These findings highlight the importance of investigating the effects of degradation mechanisms such as sunlight and composting on the toxicity of BPs. It is also crucial to investigate the composition of newly developed formulations for BPs, as they may be more harmful than conventional ones.

The plastic pollution crisis requires urgent action, and there is no silver bullet solution. Promising research continues to emerge around solutions, including alternative materials to single-use plastic. However, labels like “compostable” and “biodegradable” are misleading and lack transparency about what happens if products and packaging end up in the environment. Better Alternatives 3.0 offers greater transparency around these novel materials, their real-world behavior in the environment, and considerations that should be made before the widespread adoption of bioplastics in all sectors of society.

While people tend to feel like bioplastics are a more environmentally responsible single-use choice than conventional plastics, experts find a lack of awareness among people about how to appropriately dispose of bioplastics. What’s more, facilities that can handle bioplastics are not widely available.

Research in Europe shows that many people are unsure how to adequately dispose of plant-based bioplastics so that they can best be recovered in the waste stream.

Abstract: We analyze recycling decisions for bioplastics using a natural field experiment. Bioplastics have environmental benefits – such as reduced energy use in production and enhanced biodegredation – compared to conventional plastics. Recycling decisions that are not consistent with government guidelines, however, may cause a rebound effect. For instance when biobased plastics contaminate organic waste streams, or compostable plastics contaminate plastics waste streams. The environmental benefits of these new plastics may be offset by the damage caused by such recycling decisions. The field experiment that we set up to test this recycling behavior exploits the setting of a lemonade tasting. In our experimental treatments, subjects are exposed to different types of bioplastics logos on their lemonade cups as well as varying amounts of recycling information. We use two types of bioplastics and compare these to conventional plastics in terms of whether subjects recycle the cups according to guidelines. Our results show that over 90% of subjects dispose of their cup with plastic waste, which is not the intended waste stream for some bioplastics. None of our treatments can snap subjects out of this default behavior. We interpret this finding as subjects having no clue how to recycle bioplastics.

Excerpt: “Since the 1960s, researchers have been searching for alternatives to petroleum-derived plastics that can replace conventional plastics. These alternatives need to have less impact on the environment, either in their production processes or in that their residues can be treated and incorporated into nature without generating pollution. Among the new materials that have been developed are those known as bioplastics, which generally come from renewable sources (such as plants, animals or microorganisms) and are made from any biological material instead of fossil fuels, but the term can also mean they are biodegradable according to international standards….. Bioplastics have several drawbacks. Some the raw materials they use are often also used for food, there is not enough production and their costs are higher than those of conventional plastics…. No matter how many bioplastics or “environmentally friendly” materials there are, if we do not reduce the production of these types of materials and consequently their waste, there will be no real solutions. We need to be aware of what we consume, support initiatives that promote environmental care and demand the commitment of governments to legislate and enforce laws, as well as encouraging businesses to change their materials and production processes.”