Princess Eugenie speaks to Ellie Goulding about plastic pollution
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The study, published in the journal Environment International, looked at the blood of 22 anonymous people and found that 17 of them had tiny plastic particles in their blood. The effect of microplastics on the human body is not fully understood, although lab tests on animals, and animal cells, have found microplastics can cause gut inflammation and cell damage.
Doctor Alice Horton, Anthropogenic Contaminants Scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, said: “This is a concerning finding given that particles of this size have been demonstrated to cause inflammation and cell damage under experimental conditions.
“This study contributes to the evidence that plastic particles have not just pervaded throughout the environment but are pervading our bodies too.”
Microplastics enter the body when people drink water, whether it is bottled or from a tap.
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The type of plastic found in the blood of the participants included PET plastic, short for polyethylene terephthalate – the type of plastic used in bottles.
This type of plastic was found in half of the participants.
The more well-known plastic – polystyrene – was found in a third of the samples. Polystyrene is used in food packaging.
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“This is a highly novel study and the first to detect microplastics in human blood,” said Doctor Horton.
“Despite the low sample numbers and low concentrations detected, the analytical methods used are very robust and these data therefore unequivocally evidence the presence of microplastics and/or nanoplastics in blood samples.”
How might microplastics damage the body?
Further research, also published last year, looked at 17 previous studies to understand more about the effects of microplastics on living cells.
As part of their analysis, the scientists looked at the toxicological effects of microplastics on human cells.
What they found was disturbing: microplastics were able to cause cell death and affect the immune response.
Other studies, both in a test tube and in living animals, have shown that microplastics larger than 150 micrometres are not absorbed, and remain bound to the intestines’ layer of mucus.
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The plastics can then come into contact with the outer layer of the intestines, known as epithelial cells, causing damage.
This has been known to lead to inflammation of the gut and problems with immunity in the area affected by the plastic.
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