Toy building bricks as a potential source of microplastics and nanoplastics

Scientists find that interlocking and dismantling popular plastic toy building bricks generate microplastics and nanoplastics. These plastic fragments may pose a health risk to children who play with the bricks.

Abstract: Microplastics and nanoplastics have become noteworthy contaminants, affecting not only outdoor ecosystems but also making a notable impact within indoor environments. The release of microplastics and nanoplastics from commonly used plastic items remains a concern, and the characterisation of these contaminants is still challenging. This study focused on evaluating the microplastics and nanoplastics produced from plastic building bricks. Using Raman spectroscopy and correlation analysis, the plastic material used to manufacture building blocks was determined to be either acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (correlation value of 0.77) or polycarbonate (correlation value of 0.96). A principal component analysis (PCA) algorithm was optimised for improved detection of the debris particles released. Some challenges in microplastic analysis, such as the interference from the colourants in the building block materials, was explored and discussed. Combining Raman results with scanning electron microscopy – energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, we found the scratches on the building blocks to be a significant source of contamination, estimated several thousand microplastics and several hundred thousand nanoplastics were generated per mm2 following simulated play activities. The potential exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics during play poses risks associated with the ingestion and inhalation of these minute plastic particles.

Microplastics are reservoirs for microbial communities. Scientists are finding that microbes associated with microplastics tend to have biocidal-, metal-, and antibiotic-resistant genes. This “plastiome” could perpetuate harmful antibiotic resistant genes in microbes in the environment. Scientists assess microbial communities on plastics in two rivers near Tokyo, Japan.

Abstract: Aquatic microplastics (MPs) act as reservoirs for microbial communities, fostering the formation of a mobile resistome encompassing diverse antibiotic (ARGs) and biocide/metal resistance genes (BMRGs), and mobile genetic elements (MGEs). This collective genetic repertoire, referred to as the “plastiome,” can potentially perpetuate environmental antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Our study examining two Japanese rivers near Tokyo revealed that waterborne MPs are primarily composed of polyethylene and polypropylene fibers and sheets of diverse origin. Clinically important genera like Exiguobacterium and Eubacterium were notably enriched on MPs. Metagenomic analysis uncovered a 3.46-fold higher enrichment of ARGs on MPs than those in water, with multidrug resistance genes (MDRGs) and BMRGs prevailing, particularly within MPs. Specific ARG and BMRG subtypes linked to resistance to vancomycin, beta-lactams, biocides, arsenic, and mercury showed selective enrichment on MPs. Network analysis revealed intense associations between host genera with ARGs, BMRGs, and MGEs on MPs, emphasizing their role in coselection. In contrast, river water exhibited weaker associations. This study underscores the complex interactions shaping the mobile plastiome in aquatic environments and emphasizes the global imperative for research to comprehend and effectively control AMR within the One Health framework.

While evidence of microplastics and nanoplastics in the human body is well-established and growing, research that can help us understand the actual effects of these plastic particles on our health is just getting underway. Much more research is needed to understand the full range of consequences of plastic particles in our bodies and their impacts on our health.

One of the first studies attempting to understand such impacts assessed potential links between the presence of microplastics in carotid artery plaques of patients undergoing heart surgery and heart disease. Scientists found polyethylene (PE) particles in the hearts of more than 58% of the 257 patients studied and followed up with. More than 12% of patients had polyvinyl chloride (PVC) particles in their arterial plaques. The patients with microplastics detected in their plaques also showed signs of inflammation in their bodies, and were much more likely to go on to experience heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause compared to patients without evidence of microplastics traveling to their hearts.

Background: Microplastics and nanoplastics (MNPs) are emerging as a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease in preclinical studies. Direct evidence that this risk extends to humans is lacking.

It’s known plastic harms humans and other living beings, but do you known that these substances also affect Earth’s system as a whole? Due to mass-production and inadequate regulation of plastic and synthetic materials, Earth has entered a high-risk zone where irreversible change is likely.

Urgent action is in need to reduce production and toxicity of synthetic chemicals and plastics to bring the plant back into a safe and more balanced state. The health of Earth’s systems are critical to human survival, and a collapse of just one can have crippling effects across the planet.

Scientist have developed and evaluated a system marking nine planetary boundaries to act as a benchmark that the planet is safe and functioning stably. This NRDC brief discusses how plastic and chemical production and pollution stress the Earth’s planetary boundaries in serious and severe ways.

Top plastic pollution researcher Martin Wagner at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology writes, “A United Nations-backed agreement to end plastic pollution is within reach — but only if scientists, civil society and businesses unite against powerful vested interests.”

Wagner argues that the global plastic treaty currently under negotiation, if crafted intelligently and agreed upon by world leaders, could significantly reduce global reliance on fossil fuels and plastics. This, he writes, could diminish human and planetary exposure to hazardous chemicals and harmful plastic particles. But to get there, negotiators and observers will have to agree that vested interests with the fossil fuel and plastics industries should not guide the process.

Dr. Pete Myers, Prof. Dr. Dick Vethaak, Prof. Dr. Terrence J. Collins, and Prof. Dr. Barbro Melgert have prepared a policy briefing on the UN Plastics Treaty, on behalf of the Plastic Health Council. These top health experts lay out the necessary aspects of an effective Treaty, and point out shortcomings of the existing Draft Treaty. Lastly, it highlights the latest scientific understanding of the risk of plastics and plastic chemicals, and additionally lays out short-term and long-term goals that expert health scientists propose for a Global Plastics Treaty that heeds the known science of the impact of plastic chemicals and plastic particles on human health.