Research reveals that small plastic particles in the lungs of pregnant rats move quickly into the hearts, brains and other organs of their foetuses, and it’s the first study in a live mammal to show that the placenta doesn’t block such particles.
The experiments also revealed that the rat foetuses exposed to the particles put on significantly less weight towards the end of gestation, and the research follows the revelation in December of small plastic particles in human placentas, which scientists described as a matter of great concern.
Earlier laboratory research on human placentas donated by mothers after birth has also shown polystyrene beads can cross the placental barrier.
Microplastic pollution has touched every part of the planet, from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and people are already known to consume the small particles through food and water, and also breathe them in.
The health impact of small plastic particles in the body is as yet unknown, but scientists say there’s an urgent need to evaluate the problem, especially for growing foetuses and babies, as plastics can carry chemicals that could cause long term harm.
Professor Phoebe Stapleton, at Rutgers University, who led the rat research said that they discovered the plastic nanoparticles everywhere they looked, in the maternal tissues, in the placenta and the foetal tissues, and that they found them in the foetal heart, brain, lungs, liver and kidneys.
Dunzhu Li, at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in Ireland and not part of the research team, said that this study was extremely important because it shows the potential to transfer plastic particles in mammal pregnancy, and that maybe it might be happening from the very beginning of human life as well, and that the particles were found almost everywhere in the foetus and could also pass through the blood-brain barrier, and it was quite shocking.
Professor John Boland, also at TCD, said that it was however important not to over-interpret the results and that the nanoparticles used were near-spherical in shape, whereas real microplastics were irregular flake like objects.
He said that shape matters, as it dictates how particles interact with their environment, and in October, Li, Boland and co-workers showed that babies fed formula milk in plastic bottles were swallowing millions of particles a day.
The rat study was published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology and involved putting nanoparticles in the trachea of the animals. Stapleton said the number of particles used was estimated to be the equivalent of sixty per cent of the number a human mother would be exposed to in a day, although Li’s opinion was this estimate was too high.
But plastics are now in the air. They leech from plastic bottles, milk, water and coke, and it’s on the land, hence in the food you eat.
Microplastics are in the water, then the fish, then the animals. It’s been found in humans, in the bloodstream, and blood is essentially what the placenta is made of, so now plastic has been discovered in the placenta.
Plastics are chemical polymers that have macromolecular weight, so when we throw them in the water resources, they decay by that time to extremely tiny or small particles that cause water contamination and ultimately severe disease like cancer et cetera. However, the process of decomposing would take a long time, perhaps decades.
Perhaps it’s time to consider other ways to reduce that particle emission in waterways and invest in membrane filter technology, which is a well-known technology used in Israel.