Unbottling the Environmental & Health Impacts of Nanoplastics

April 18 , 6:00 pm 7:00 pm EDT

As concerns about plastic pollution reach a crescendo, recent research has uncovered a hidden threat in one of our most common commodities: bottled water. This groundbreaking study, conducted by researchers at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), has revealed the presence of hundreds of thousands of previously uncounted tiny plastic particles in bottled water samples.

Columbia University invites you to explore what we have learned about the distribution and concentration of microplastics and nanoplastics in various environments, including our living spaces. We will discuss the major exposure pathways, penetration through biological barriers, and the potential health impacts, including developmental and neurological effects. We will also discuss the limitations of previous exposure assessment methods and the solutions our researchers have developed for quantifying nanoplastics.

Jeffrey Shaman: Interim Dean, Columbia Climate School; Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and of Climate

Beizhan Yan: Lamont Associate Research Professor, Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Julie Herbstman: Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University; Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health

May 2 , 7:00 pm 8:00 pm EDT

The negative impacts of plastic on human health are increasingly visible and increasingly costly. This March, the New England Journal of Medicine released the results of a study detecting micro- and nanoplastics in the carotid artery plaque of 58% of patients, and found that it measurably increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, and all-cause mortality in those patients.

What does this mean for us? On Thursday, May 2 from 7-8pm ET, please join Beyond Plastics for a conversation with Philip J. Landrigan, M.D. on Plastics and Your Health.

Plastic exacts a heavy price in human and environmental health. Micro-and nano plastics are present in the air, water, and soil, and throughout the food web. They are also present inside of us. Researchers have located micro- and nanoplastics in human intestine, placenta, liver, spleen, and lymph node tissues, as well as in blood, breast milk, and the fetus. Chemicals added to plastics such as PFAS, phthalates, and bisphenols are present in the bodies of nearly all Americans. Dr. Landrigan, who is a pediatrician and toxicologist, is at the forefront of research and thinking about what this means for our health and longevity. In the pages of March’s New England Journal he asks: Should exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics be considered a cardiovascular risk factor? What organs in addition to the heart may be at risk? How can we reduce exposure?

Register now to explore these critical and emergent questions.

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.


In mid-October, the European Union (EU) implemented a ban on glitter made of plastic particles smaller than 5mm—considered microplastics—that are resistant to degradation. This translates to a total ban on loose plastic glitter often used in crafts and in decorating, as they are ready-made microplastics that easily pollute the environment and human bodies. 

The new ban apparently caused a small glitter panic-buying spree among lifestyle influencers in Germany, among other parts of the EU. But the EU Commission stresses that loose glitters made of “biodegradable, soluble, natural, and inorganic” materials, such as minerals and plants, continue to be sold.

The ban will prohibit the use of plastic glitter in rinse-off cosmetics by 2027, in leave-on cosmetics by 2029, and in make-up and nail cosmetics by 2035. As it is a ready-made type of microplastic, banning glitter is a necessary early step in reducing the amount of microplastic pollution directly introduced to the environment and our bodies. However, microplastics are released by all plastic products, so a reduction in production and use of all plastics—including other ready-made microplastics, like microbeads—is ultimately necessary to address the problem.

Plastic-Free Glitter Alternatives

We know that once microplastics enter the environment and our bodies, they are notoriously difficult—if not impossible, in some cases—to remove. These microplastics readily pollute the environment, wildlife, and our bodies. With the recent EU ban, people are now looking for plastic-free alternatives. Here are some glitter options that are better for the Earth and our bodies:

1. Mica- and other mineral-based glitter: Glitter made of mica or other naturally glittery minerals like malachite are mined from the Earth in rock and has been traditionally prized in cosmetics.

2. Cornstarch-based glitter: This type of glitter can be made at home yourself relatively simply and inexpensively using just water, cornstarch, and natural food colorings. Not only is it DIY-friendly, it’s edible too.

3. Cellulose-based glitter: Cellulose-based glitter looks and feels a lot like plastic glitter, but is made using highly processed cellulose from eucalyptus trees.

4. Dyed salt or sugar: Table salt or sugar can be dyed using natural food colorings and dried in the oven to make glitter.

5. Colored rice or colored sand: Uncooked rice and light colored sand can be dyed using natural food colorings to create glitter and plastic-free confetti.

There are a few important things to consider when buying plastic-free glitter: With mica, salt, and other minerals, mining operations have been linked to environmental pollution and human rights issues; corn, eucalyptus, rice, and sugarcane crops are all linked to myriad human health, ecological, and social justice issues. Whenever possible, try to source your glitter or glitter ingredients in bulk and in plastic-free packaging or no packaging at all. Look for labels that indicate that what you’re buying is made, at minimum, of certified organic, biodegradable, and fair-trade ingredients. 

With increasing demand for plastic-free glitter, there are now many brands marketing “eco-glitter.” In some cases, these glitters are truly made of natural substances like minerals or sand, but in many cases they may also contain some microplastics, or are made from highly processed natural ingredients. 

And so while plastic-free glitter exists, it is also important to consider when and why we use glitter, and how much and where we use it. Less is more! 

Will you commit to being a part of plastic-free solutions? Say ‘no’ to single-use plastic.


November 30, 2023 , 12:00 pm 1:00 pm EST

Plastic pollution of varying shapes, sizes and polymers is found throughout our environment and is one of the most prevalent types of solid pollution found in our oceans and waterways. There are still many questions regarding the specific threat of micro- and nanoplastics to human health and our environment. Microplastics are typically defined as being less than five millimeters in length and nanoplastics are even smaller at 100 nanometers or less in length. As an emerging field of study, their impact on human health is still shrouded in a lot of uncertainty.

This Trash-Free Webinar webinar will present three speakers who will present on what we know and do not know about our exposure to micro- and nanoplastics and their impacts on our health.

• Todd Gouin, PhD, TG Environmental Research
• Charlie Rolsky, PhD, Shaw Institute
• Scott Coffin, PhD, California State Water Resources Control Board

Closed captioning will be available during the webinar.

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!