Scientists have discovered microplastics in human blood for the first time, but the health risks of such exposure remain largely unclear.
The study published on Thursday in Environmental International and conducted by the University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) stated that the measuring of toxic chemicals such as plastics in human tissues is "invaluable in confirming exposure levels and driving public health protection measures."
Microplastics are worn-out particles of plastic from various products humans come in contact with on a daily basis – from food and drink packaging to plastic clothing –, are small enough to float through the air and mix with food, drink and water, and have previously been found in people's intestinal tract and the placenta.
The researchers validated a method to analyse polymer mass concentrations in human blood from 22 volunteers and found polymers from several high production volume plastics in the blood of 17 people.
Health risk remains unclear
This not only proves that the small size of microplastics means they are "bioavailable for uptake" into people's bloodstream, but that people ingest such large amounts that they can be found there.
"It is possible that the other participants also carry microplastics in their bloodstream, but that the method is simply not refined enough to pick it up. The chance of that even seems very high to me," analytical chemist Marja Lamoree from the VU University Amsterdam told De Morgen.
The study did not pick up on all microplastics, as the method used was not able to detect smaller microplastics.
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Scientists stressed that a human health risk assessment (HRA) for plastic particle pollution in human blood is not possible at the moment due to the lack of data on both toxicological hazard and human exposure.
"For HRA, many more data need to be collected and the science will benefit in further improvements to the sensitivity of analysis in ongoing work in this field," the study stated.
It is believed that exposure to such particles can cause chronic inflammation reactions, however, scientists said that more research is needed to understand the hazard of such exposure for humans to determine whether or not plastic particle exposure is a public health risk.