Micro- and Nanoplastics and Public Health: EU research findings

June 25 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm EDT

There is widespread concern about the ubiquity of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) in our environment. These tiny particles result from the degradation of  plastics, or are manufactured and added to products for a variety of purposes. They can find their way into the human body through the food, water or air. Yet, so far, we know little about human exposures and health effects.

Over the past three years, the European Commission has funded an informal network called the  Research Cluster to Understand the Health Impacts of Micro- and Nanoplastics (CUSP) dedicated to advancing our understanding of the health impacts associated with MNPs. Its latest policy brief, “Micro- and Nanoplastics and Public Health: A Reasonable Concern,” highlights key findings from CUSP’s research efforts and underscores the importance of addressing this emerging public health concern. CUSP is composed of five collaborating research projects: AURORA, ImpToxPLASTICHEAL, PlasticsFatE and POLYRISK.

The findings from these research projects can have far-reaching implications for European policies on chemicals, plastics, food, and water. Findings related to carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and fate and exposure assessment of MNPs can trigger the need for, and inform, regulatory decision-making.

This webinar will highlight the work of two projects from the cluster: AURORA and POLYRISK.

Dr. Hubert Dirven (POLYRISK) will present research on exposure to micro- and nanoplastics in real-life scenarios and potential adverse effects on the immune system, for example in indoor soccer fields with artificial turf with rubber granulate infill. He will discuss knowledge gaps related to exposure and human health effects.

Prof. Roel Vermeulen (AURORA) will present research conducted to better understand how MNPs can affect pregnancy and development in early life.

The webinar will be moderated by Génon Jensen (Health and Environment Alliance, HEAL).

Health problems linked with harmful plastic chemicals cost the U.S. health care system $250 billion in increased costs in the year 2018 alone, according to a study published today. This cost is equal to 1.22% of the nation’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).

The United States has historically considered plastics and their chemical ingredients as a point of economic productivity. Yet this new study reveals that the health care costs of treating illnesses that trace back to plastic chemicals are extremely steep—and experts say plastic’s health costs will only increase if industries are permitted to continue pumping out plastics into the world.

Our study drives home the need to address chemicals used in plastic materials as part of the Global Plastics Treaty. Actions through the Global Plastics Treaty and other policy initiatives will reduce these costs in proportion to the actual reductions in chemical exposures achieved.

— Leonardo Trasande, M.D., M.P.P., of NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York, N.Y., and Plastic Pollution Coalition Scientific Advisor

Plastics contain more than 16,000 chemicals, including many that interrupt how our bodies’ hormone (endocrine) systems work. These chemicals can cause serious health problems including cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children, and even death. Some of the most harmful plastic chemicals include bisphenols, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Babies, children, and pregnant people are especially vulnerable to these chemicals.

Plastics pollute throughout their endless, toxic existence. The plastics and petrochemical industries also heavily pollute the air, soils, and waters during fossil fuel extraction and processing, plastics production, as well as transportation and “disposal” of plastic in landfills, incinerators, and the environment. Poor, rural, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have been disproportionately polluted by these industries, driving major social injustices and public health crises.

Plastic pollution impacts everything, and hurts our health and the health of our planet. As evidence of plastic pollution’s harmful effects grows, it’s clear plastic’s costs far outweigh any perceived economic benefits. We don’t have time to continue with business as usual, it’s time to shift the system.

— Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder, Plastic Pollution Coalition

New Documentary on Plastics + Health to Debut at SXSW

Image credit: @PlasticPeopleDoc

Plastic People, a new film that will debut at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival this March in Austin, Texas, sheds important light on the health consequences and costs of plastics. The UN Plastics Treaty, now under negotiation, is an opportunity to more effectively regulate the plastics and petrochemical industries. An effective Plastics Treaty should address the impacts of plastic pollution across its lifecycle, and bind industries to phasing out toxic plastics and chemicals.

How to Protect Yourself

Loose fruit and vegetables in market, no plastic wrappers.

Scientists have been increasingly finding plastic particles and chemicals in our environment, food, water, and our bodies. As evidence of plastic’s harmful effects on human health grows, so does the urgency of taking action to end production of toxic plastics and their chemical additives.

The news of microplastic and nanoplastic particles getting into our bodies from food, water and other beverages, and the air when we breathe, is concerning. Despite plastic’s ubiquity in our lives, there are ways you can help reduce your exposure. Learn tangible, common sense ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use in your daily life during our January 18 webinar: Plastic-Free Resolutions: Protecting Your Health in 2024. Sign up.

Avoid bottled water and other beverages sold in plastic, which can release hundreds of thousands of plastic particles into your body. Instead consider installing a point-of-use water filter on your tap that can catch microplastics and many of the chemicals commonly used in plastics. When choosing foods, opt for those that are the least processed, and are either unpackaged or are stored in materials other than plastic, such as untreated paper or banana leaves.

Take Action

We need urgent action to end plastic pollution on a global scale. We must convince government leaders to take a strong stance and support a bold, binding global plastics treaty that addresses the full life cycle of plastics. You can help by signing petitions to the U.S. Government and world leaders, and by amplifying the voices of people on the frontlines of the crisis.

3

November 22, 2023 , 8:00 am November 23, 2023 , 5:00 pm EST

Register today for the 2nd International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region, which will take place in Reykjavík, Iceland, November 22-23, 2023. The Early Bird registration deadline for the Arctic Plastics Symposium was extended until September 30, 2023. ECS and Indigenous Peoples can now apply for funding opportunities until September 28, 2023.

The symposium will shed light on the latest findings on the extent and impact of plastic pollution in the Arctic and near Arctic Regions. The Plenary Opening will be provided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and moderated by the Senior Arctic Official of Iceland Ambassador Pétur Ásgeirsson. The Ministerial Panel Discussion will be moderated by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, providing also closing remarks. Check out the draft program of the Symposium here.

Blog updated 3/7/2024 to reflect the latest scientific information about microplastics in human hearts.

Microplastics, the tiny toxic particles that all plastics shed, appear to be accumulating in one of our bodies’ most important organs: our hearts. Last month, scientists published research from a small pilot study that shows evidence that microplastics are present in multiple types of human heart tissues, and backs up research confirming its presence in our blood.

The presence of microplastics in our hearts comes with big threats to human health. Experts have found that people with plastic particles in their heart are unfortunately at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and death.

Plastic Particles in Five Heart Regions & Blood

In the pilot study, researchers collected heart tissue samples from five different regions of the heart in 15 patients while they were undergoing heart surgeries. They also collected blood samples from the patients before and after their operations. 

The researchers found tens to thousands of microplastic pieces in each sample assessed, including common plastics used to make single-use beverage bottles (PET), and those introduced during surgery such as pieces of intravenous (IV) solution bags (PVC). All of the blood samples contained plastic particles, building documentation of the presence of plastic particles in human blood, which was announced for the first time in 2022.

Plastic Particles Hurt Human Heart Health

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 in the hearts of more than 58% of the 257 patients studied and followed up with. More than 12% of patients had 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.

This is pivotal. For so long, people have been saying these things are in our bodies, but we don’t know what they do.

—  Philip J. Landrigan, MD, M.Sc., an epidemiologist and professor of biology at Boston College, and Plastic Pollution Coalition Scientific Advisor, remarking on the study for Fast Company

Evidence of Plastic Pollution Contamination Grows

The two studies suggest that our bodies transport microplastics into our hearts via our bloodstreams, with clearly negative effects on heart function and our overall health. Plastic gets into our blood when we absorb, ingest, and inhale it into our bodies.

Our hearts are one of the most important organs keeping our bodies alive. While researchers urge more research to understand the impacts of their findings, evidence of the harmful effects of microplastics—and even smaller-sized nanoplastics, which researchers did not look for in this study—already exists, and is only building.  

Thanks to the testimony and observations of people on the frontlines of the plastic crisis, we know that plastic pollution includes the contamination of the environment and all living beings, including plants, insects, humans, and other animals with microplastic and nanoplastic particles. Plastic particles contain and leach hormone-disrupting, immune-suppressing, and carcinogenic additives. 

Yet plastic also pollutes with climate-warming greenhouse gases and hazardous chemicals, such as dioxins, heavy metals, and polychlorinated bisphenyls throughout its endless toxic existence. Plastic pollutes from the moment its fossil fuel ingredients are extracted from the Earth, to its eventual fate in the environment, landfills, dumps, open burns, recycling and sorting, facilities, and incinerators.

Be Part of Solutions to Plastic Pollution

Solutions to plastic pollution must take into account all stages of plastic’s existence, from production to use and disposal. Solutions exist today, and everyone is needed to achieve the world we need.

Shifting from systems that favor unhealthy and wasteful single-use plastics to healthy and more Earth-compatible plastic-free reuse, refill, repair, share, and regenerative systems is the most significant way to address plastic pollution. 

An opportunity to catalyze those major necessary shifts is now on the table. And we need your help to get there: Please urge both the U.S. government and international leaders to take a strong stance on UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations. Polluters must be held accountable, and people must be protected, supported, and empowered to engage in solutions.

Change starts with each and every one of us. As you push for systems change, commit to refusing single-use plastic every day!

6

July 20, 2023 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm EDT

It’s falling from the sky and in the air we breathe. It’s in our food, our clothes, and our homes. It’s microplastic and it’s everywhere — including our own bodies. Scientists are just beginning to discover how these tiny particles threaten health, but the studies are alarming.

Matt Simon, a nine-year veteran science journalist at Wired magazine, reveals a whole new dimension to the plastic crisis in his book, “A Poison Like No Other.” Join him in a webinar on Thursday, July 20 at 12:00 PM ET as he dives deep into our plastic pollution crisis. The conversation will be moderated by Shilpi Chhotray, co-founder and executive director at People Over Plastic. Simon weaves humor with humility together as he discusses this difficult topic. You’ll emerge from the webinar ready to fight for a plastic-free future.

Get 25% off the book with code REALITY from https://islandpress.org/books/poison-no-other