Infants and children have more microplastics in their faeces than adults
We are increasingly surrounded by – and reliant on – plastic in our day to day lives.
This, of course, is a giant – and growing – problem for the planet and environment, but maybe even more worryingly according to a new study, it is proving to be a concern for human health as well.
Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than 5mm in size that have been released into the environment from the breakage of bigger plastic objects. They are a threat to the environment because they do not easily biodegrade, and recent research has found them in dust, food, fruit, bottled water – and, because of how prevalent it is almost everywhere these days, in animal and human faeces.
The problem? We still don't know very much about the long-term effect of this – and especially considering the fact that exposure to microplastics now starts in infancy. However, some tests on laboratory animals have shown inflammation, cell shutdown and metabolic issues.
Researchers say children’s mouthing behaviour and products such as bottles may be to blame
In a recent small study, published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology Letters, researchers from New York University School of Medicine discovered that infants have 10 to 20 times higher microplastic concentrations in their stool than adults, specifically when it comes to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) microplastics. These are used mainly in the production of textile fibres, water bottles and mobile phone cases, for example.
By analysing the faeces of six infants and 10 adults, and three newborns’ first stool, through a method called mass spectrometry, Kannan and his team looked into human exposure to two common microplastics – PET and polycarbonate (PC). Every sample had at least one type of microplastic in it.
The level of PC microplastics were roughly the same in adults and infants, but infants had 10 to 20 times higher levels of PET microplastics.
“We were surprised to find higher levels in infants than adults, but later tried to understand various sources of exposure in infants,” Kurunthachalam Kannan, a professor in the paediatrics department at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the lead researcher on the study, said.
"We found that infants’ mouthing behaviour, such as crawling on carpets and chewing on textiles, as well as various products used for children including teethers, plastic toys, feeding bottles, utensils such as spoons … can all contribute to such exposure.”
“Human exposure to microplastics is a health concern. We need to make efforts to reduce exposure in children. Children’s products should be made free of plastics.”
We are consuming five grams of plastic a week
According to The Guardian, it has been estimated that the average person can ingest up to 5 grams of microplastic a week. Some of the microplastics pass seamlessly through the digestive system and are expelled in faeces, some microplastics accumulate within bodily organs, and recent research has shown that some pieces cross cell membranes and enter the bloodstream.
Even more concerning? Other studies have shown generational transmission of microplastics from pregnant mothers to their baby’s placenta.