Microplastics harm human health, warn experts

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Microplastics pose a risk to human health, claim experts. Image by Oregon State University shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence
Microplastics pose a risk to human health, claim experts. Image by Oregon State University shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence

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Human health could be at risk from microplastics – small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in length – according to researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht.

A report presented at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam on 3 October found that immune cells that recognised and attacked microplastics entering the body would die quickly after contact.

This rate of cell death is thought to be far in excess of that of immune cells encountering and engulfing most bacteria or foreign bodies, claimed the report.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their children will be profoundly worried about today’s findings.

‘Is it worth the risk?’

“With plastic production set to quadruple in the next decades, we need to ask ourselves – is this risk worth it for the sake of convenience in our throwaway lifestyle or is this finally the proof needed to turn off the plastic tap?”

The Plastic Health Summit, which was organised by the Plastic Soup Foundation, saw experts from around the world debate the latest research into micro- and nanoplastics. It represented the first meeting of some of the world’s top scientists to explore new and existing research on the impact of plastic and health.

Maria Westerbos, founder and director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, said: “With this summit, we want to prove once and for all that plastic doesn’t just harm nature and animals, but also ourselves. If we want to give our children and their children a fair chance, then all this proof is enough to turn the tide.”

Microplastic contamination in food and drink products has become a growing concern within the industry. Last year, concerns were raised when research by the State University of New York indicated major brands of water contained tiny particles of plastic.

Investigation welcomed

Food and Drink Federation chief scientific officer Helen Munday welcomed an investigation into microplastics.

“The issue of microplastics is a new and emerging area​,”​ Munday told Food Manufacture​.​ “As food safety is our top priority, we would welcome further research on this topic – particularly to assess any potential associated risks and their management.

Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency has called for more research into bio-based food contact materials​ in order to rule out concerns they could pose allergen risks.

Image by Oregon State University shared under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence​.

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