The Hidden Dangers of Microplastics

Microplastics - The Lead Paint of Our Generation.

Microplastics are the small plastic particles that shed from larger plastics such as bottles, polythene bags, and tooth brushes. They are less than five millimeters in size yet these tiny particles are hazardous for the environment and human health. These plastics flow in the water and are broken down by weathering of sand, sun, and water. They contain harmful chemicals such as pesticides and dioxins, and carry bacteria and other organic pollutants that deteriorate health and nature. The Maldives, a tiny island nation, consists of the world’s largest levels of microplastics at its beaches and offshore waters. These particles are found in places as high as Mount Everest to mundane places such as the human feces. Yes, chances are that your feces contain microplastics!

There are two types of microplastics- primary and secondary. Primary microplastics are particles that shed from cosmetic packaging, clothing materials, and toothpastes. Secondary microplastics are particles that are broken down from large plastic items such as water bottles and food packaging. The chemicals included in these plastics are extremely concerning to scientists. The BPA chemical makes the bottles transparent but is also found to disturb the hormonal systems in humans. DEHP chemical makes plastics more flexible, but has also been known to cause cancer.

Microplastic particles do not dissolve in water which has an adverse affect on marine life and can be fatal for underwater animals. What's interesting is that marine animals reproduce slower and grow slower when they are surrounded by plastic waste in their environment. As the ocean too, consists of layers of microplastics, this causes resistance to stop climate change. Chances are that these particles have made the world hotter than before today. Microplastics also contaminate the ground water, making the water unhealthy for you to drink. Sea creatures are transferred to humans through the food chain, which makes consuming seafood harmful to human health. Zooplankton eat plastic, the fish then eat zooplanktons, and the fish are either directly a part of human diet or they are consumed by other underwater creatures that are a part of the human diet.

The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, can all contain microplastics. Honey, sea salt, beer, and dust in the air, all contain microplastics. Take a long look at your surroundings and count the amount of plastic sources you see. It is expected that you will find at least one source and it will probably be a plastic bottle of water. Bottled water, in particular, is a major source of microplastics and contains twice as many compared to tap water. Although there is no certain answer as to how these particles harm human health, it is still assumed that they cause high blood pressure, behavioral changes, liver and kidney damage, and neurological problems. The particles attack the red blood cells and cause allergic reactions.

Another interesting fact is the unreliability of laboratory experiments regarding harmful effects of microplastics in humans. Labs explore the harmful effects of spherical shaped microplastics rather than irregular shaped particles, which pose more of a danger to human health. More research must be conducted to get an accurate overview of the health hazards of microplastics in humans.

One area that goes unnoticed by most is the adverse effect of formula milk in plastic bottles. As a baby, you've probably consumed large amounts of formula. Did you know, shaking a bottle of formula can lead to the baby consuming more than one million microplastic particles per bottle? That is the microplastic intake that you had as an infant too.

Simple daily activities such as warming food in plastic containers can also harm human health. They shed plastic specks that are swallowed every day.

Your mode of transport, too, adds on to the amount of microplastics in the air. Car tires blow off particles that then get stuck in the land, air, and water and are inhaled by humans and animals. The cup of coffee you take away before work every day leaches microplastics into it. Doing laundry also creates pollutants as washing nylon, acrylic, and polyester clothes produces microplastic particles. The activities mentioned above are things you do daily, without any hesitation. It is time that you start making a conscious effort to limit these practices as all these factors combined cause humans to ingest approximately 100,000 microplastics on a daily basis.

Recently, microplastics were found in human blood for the first time which is extremely alarming as it was discovered that these particles can travel around the body and block organs, hindering their performance. The recent study was based on a sample of 22 random blood donors, out of which 17 had traces of microplastic particles in their blood. That is about 77% of the sample and that is a huge percentage.

The majority sources of these microplastics were PET plastic that is typically found in bottled water. Other sources included polyethylene and polystyrene that came from plastic bags and styrofoam. Other studies showed that the particles stuck to red blood cell membranes. This sounds technical but the simple explanation is that it can lead to difficulty in breathing.

The amount of plastic deposited in the environment is expected to be approximately 380 million tons by 2040.Scientists are calling out to you to make small changes in your daily lives for your own future. Although, plastic gained popularity solely because it was easy to use, cheap, flexible, and lightweight; it is essential that we take small steps to limit our usage.

Simple steps such as cutting back on plastic cups and bottled water, avoid microwaving food in plastic containers, limiting seafood intake, and vacuuming regularly to get rid of dust particles; are just some of the things you can do to help minimize the dangers of microplastics. Choose clothing material made up of natural materials such as wool, silk, organic cotton, and other organic materials. Carpooling or using public transport will reduce air pollution and dust in the air. Together, we can make a real difference!

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