by Louie Fletcher
Since the release of Blue Planet 2 in 2017, plastics have been at the forefront of environmental debates. We’ve been told all about the effects that plastics are having on our oceans and the animals that rely upon them, but evidence has now come to light that we too are being poisoned by plastic.
Researchers at the Austrian Environment Agency (AEA), in cooperation with the University of Vienna, have found microplastics present in the stool of eight participants from Europe, Japan and Russia. Plastic particles were found in every individual, with nine different types of plastic being found in the worst sample, ranging from 50 to 500 micrometres in length.
This is the first study of its kind. Dr Philipp Schwabl, the lead researcher in the study, has said these results “confirm[s] what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut”. With the first evidence of the presence of microplastics inside humans it is now essential to further research the effects this will have on human health.
Plastics cause catastrophic damage to marine and pelagic animals. Many species of pelagic bird chicks are dying in their thousands due to their parents unwittingly feeding them large plastics, which have been mistaken for fish at the surface. These plastics are indigestible and block the stomach of the young bird causing them to starve to death. In sea mammals such as whales and dolphins it is thought that plastics are reducing fertility. If plastics can have such devastating consequences in other animals, then there is potential for plastics to cause similarly disastrous problems in humans.
Co-founder of ‘A Plastic Planet’ Sian Sutherland, said: “Many plastics contain chemicals that scientists believe can disrupt our endocrine system. Disruption of the endocrine system can seriously affect human health and fertility.” There is also serious concern for the effect plastics could have on those suffering with gastrointestinal diseases.
The study suggests that plastics are getting into our body via wrapped foods, plastic bottles, and even the food we eat, such as fish. Many fish consume microplastics which they mistake for the plankton they usually feed on. Recently synthetic fashion items have also been implicated into shedding microplastics, but most infamous of all are the “single use plastics” such as straws, plastic bags and food packaging.
Earlier this week the European Parliament approved a wide–ranging ban on single use plastics in an effort to tackle the ever–increasing plastic pollution. It is a step in the right direction, but now that plastic has been found inside our own bodies is it too little too late?