Published: Fri, October 26, 2018
Science | By Patricia Jimenez

People Are Pooping Microplastics

People Are Pooping Microplastics

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that measure under 0.2 inches in length. Until now most research has focused on the natural world, but the new study shows that humans are also consuming plastic, with some pieces potentially lodging in our bodies.

"This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut", said lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna.

For the stool study, Schwabl and his team recruited one test subject each from Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, Russia and Japan. They kept diaries of their food intake for a week before having their stools tested. The most common plastics were polypropylene and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET). Scientists have found the particles, better known as microplastics, everywhere from the oceans, the air to tap and bottled water as well as beer, and table salt.

There isn't any evidence so far of whether ingesting microplastics is risky to humans, let alone the specific effects, but the researchers believe that gastrointestinal plastic might have a clinical impact.

Our reliance on plastic could be seriously harming us on the inside.

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Almost eight billion metric tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans each year.

Global plastic production has grown to more than 400 million tonnes a year, and an estimated two to five per cent of it winds up in the ocean.

Microplastics have been making their way into the diets of people in countries across the world, according to a scientific study.

Presenting his results to a United European Gastroenterology conference in Vienna he said the findings will increase concerns about the amount of plastic we are eating and inhaling.

"The solutions to plastic pollution, while they're big and daunting, we know what they are and they're not that hard", she said. The Irish News reports that up to 5% of all plastics produced end up in the sea, where they are consumed by sea animals and move up the food chain.

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The authors estimate "more than 50% of the world population might have microplastics in their stools", though they stressed the need for larger-scale studies.

The study, which was the first of its kind, was very small-the researchers, from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria, only studied stool samples from eight participants.

Not only is the potential migration of the plastics throughout our body a concern, but the additives in plastics may carry health risks. "Now we need to think about how it will impact human health", said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. "It is highly likely that during various steps of food processing or as a result of packaging food is being contaminated with plastics".

Due to their small size, microplastics are easily consumed by sea creatures, entering the food chain.

Experts say it's not surprising that microplastics would be found in human samples too, and said the Austrian study raises many questions.

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Scientists believe the plastic was ingested through plastic-wrapped food or drinking from plastic bottles. Founder of a British Organic food company Guy Singh-Watson told BBC news that the public's tunnel vision over recycling could even be unsafe.

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