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article imageAlarm at recovery of plastic waste in human bodies

By Tim Sandle     Oct 25, 2018 in Environment
Vienna - Plastic pollution and the recovery of micro-particles of plastic is not only a concern for marine life, according to a new report. Particles of plastic material are being recovered in the human digestive tract.
The research is based on a small study conducted at the Medical University of Vienna. The research looked at data collated from people in eight different nations (in Europe, Japan and Russia), to gain an insight if plastic pollution was entering the human food chain.
The researchers examined human feces and each sample studied was found to contain microplastic particles, with sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometres. According to a research summary, typically twenty particles of microplastic were discovered in each 10g of excreta. PP (polypropylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) were most frequently found in the samples.
Microplastics are particles of less than 5 millimeters. The origins often relate to cosmetics and by larger items of plastic being broken down in the sea. Microplastics are not a specific kind of plastic, but rather any type of plastic fragment. It has been estimated there are between up to fifty-one trillion individual pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans. These have a combined weight or up to 236,000 metric tons (equal to 40,000 African Bush Elephants).
The study is small in size and limited in terms of its global reach; however, it does signify that the interconnectedness of the planet and the various concerns that have been raised in relation to plastic waste disposal requires urgent, and joined-up, action by governments.
Since the 1950s, the use of plastics in high-income societies has grown considerably. However, it is only in the past few years that some measures have been adopted to reduce plastic waste, such as banning plastic drinking straws or ceasing to manufacture certain cosmetics or cleaning materials without the presence of plastic microbeads.
This is because there are potential risks, although these will need to be drawn out through subsequent inquires. According to lead researcher Philipp Schwabl, who works at the university’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “Although there are initial indications that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances, further studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplastics for humans.”
According to Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff we shouldn’t be surprised by the findings. She writes: “We already knew fish were ingesting plastic. Did we really think it wouldn’t reach back up to the top of the food chain, that the consequences of our own actions couldn’t return to haunt us?”
The research was presented to the United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week, which took place in Vienna during October 2018. The conference presentation was titled “Assessment of microplastics concentrations in human stool – Preliminary results of a prospective study.”
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