You cannot avoid microplastics
No human being on this earth comes through life without breathing, drinking water and consuming salt. For the vast majority of us, this also means involuntary ingestion of microplastics.
Microplastics are everywhere – including in our drinking water, table salt and in the air that we breathe. Having studied the scope of microplastics in a number of countries, researchers are worried.
– Given the lifetime inevitable exposure to microplastics, we urgently call for a better understanding of the potential hazards of microplastics to human health, says Dr Elvis Genbo Xu, an Assistant Professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Southern Denmark.
There are many studies on microplastics, especially concerning the oceans, but in this study Elvis Genbo Xu and his colleagues, Professor Huanghong Shi from East China Normal University and Professor Eddy Zeng from Jinan University in China, chose to focus on microplastics in table salt, drinking water and air.
In honey, milk and beer
– Microplastics have been found in many places, including in various foods such as honey, milk, beer and seafood, but these are foods that you can choose not to eat – unlike salt, water and air, which no one can avoid, and that’s why we’re focusing on these, he says.
The researchers have conducted a so-called meta-analysis. This means they have reviewed 46 existing scientific articles on the subject while looking for trends and patterns.
They conclude, among other things, that of the three sources of microplastic intake, the primary one is air; especially indoor air.
We inhale microplastics
– When we inhale microplastics, the tiny particles can reach the lungs and digestive system. Nobody knows what this means for the human organism and our health, but as we are talking about a lifelong exposure, it’s a cause for concern, says Elvis Genbo Xu.
Nobody knows what this means for the human organism and our health, but as we are talking about a lifelong exposure, it’s a cause for concern.
There are no official guidelines for how much microplastic food may contain. Likewise, no studies have defined values for when certain sizes or amounts of microplastic particles can be hazardous for humans to ingest.
However, animal studies show that the ingestion of microplastics can disturb, for example, the metabolism and intestinal system.
Top photo: Plastic Change
Meet the researcher
Elvis Genbo Xu, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biology. His research focuses on environmental toxicology, nanoplastics and endocrine disruptors.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic less than 5 mm. They occur when larger pieces of plastic become worn and broken down, e.g. by the sun, wind or waves.
Normal daily wear of e.g. polyester, acrylic and nylon clothing, car tyres and plastic containers also release microplastics, which are flushed on to wastewater treatment plants.
The processing plants do not capture the small particles, which therefore enter the environment and accumulate in e.g. oceans, sediments, animals and fields.