Americans consume thousands of microplastic particles every year

Brittany A. Roston - Jun 5, 2019, 7:00 pm CDT
Americans consume thousands of microplastic particles every year

Americans consume thousands of microplastic particles every year, according to a new study. Unlike the larger bits of plastic you may find in products, such as microbeads used in exfoliants, microplastic particles are very tiny, typically microscopic, and they often result from larger plastic products that have started to degrade or shed. The health effects of consuming these tiny plastic particles remain unclear.

Plastic is found all over the world, including in remote locations and throughout the oceans. Though the material offers society a number of important benefits, including in healthcare applications, effectively disposing of and recycling these materials remains a problem. A number of new breakthroughs hint at a future in which plastic products will be fully recyclable, but that leaves humanity with seemingly impossible amounts of existing plastic waste to deal with.

As these plastics move throughout the environment, they slowly break down and may become damaged — being scrapped, cracking, and simply used are examples of instances where microplastic particles can result. These tiny fibers enter the environment, making their way into bodies of water, and ultimately into the food people eat and the water they drink.

According to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers found that the average American is consuming more than 70,000 of these microscopic plastic fibers every year. The study cautions that some of these microplastic particles are small enough to enter the body’s tissues, potentially causing health effects that may include immune reactions or toxicity.

The findings are based on an analysis of existing studies on microplastic particles found in a variety of foods, ingredients, and water, including things like salt and both tap and bottled water. Based on how much of these foods the average American eats, the study found that people could be consuming anywhere from 74,000 to 121,000 of these particles annually.

Exclusively drinking bottled water may boost the number by up to another 90,000 particles every year compared to tap water. As well, the researchers caution that these figures likely underestimate the true number of particles consumed — the team based their findings on only around 15-percent of someone’s caloric intake.

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