Some 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the middle of the 20th century, with about 79 percent ending up in landfills or natural environments, including municipal water sources, indoor and outdoor air, soil, and oceans. Now scientists have discovered that some of that plastic pollution is making its way into the human digestive tract.
Research has previously found microplastics — fragments similar in size and density to plankton — in the guts of fish. These particles, which may cause intestinal damage, liver stress, and death from starvation, have also been found in the stomachs of albatross, whales, and turtles.
For a groundbreaking pilot study of humans, researchers from Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria enlisted eight healthy men and women from eight countries (Finland, Italy, Japan, Austria, Poland, Russia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) to log their regular diet for a week. None of the participants was a vegetarian, six consumed seafood, and all ate food wrapped in plastic and drank beverages from plastic bottles. Participants also completed questionnaires on their potential plastic exposure from cosmetics and chewing gum.
After the test period, each of the study subjects provided about 50 grams of stool. Nine types of plastic were detected overall, with three to seven different types appearing in every sample.
“Now that we have the first evidence for microplastics inside humans,” says study coauthor Philipp Schwabl, “we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
In the meantime, learn how you can steer clear of plastic in your daily life with the basic strategies at “18 Ways to Live With Less Plastic.”
This originally appeared as “One Word: Plastics” in the June 2019 print issue of Experience Life.