According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, Americans consume more than 70,000 microplastic particles every year from the food they eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe.
While the health impacts of ingesting these tiny particles are largely unknown, there is the potential for the plastic to enter human tissues and cause an immune response or perhaps release toxic chemicals into the body.
The analysis by biologists at the University of Victoria in Canada examined data from 26 previous studies on microplastic contamination. It found that Americans eat and drink an estimated 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles each year, depending on their age and sex. The numbers jump to 74,000 to 121,000 when inhalation of microplastics is included.
Americans who drink water solely from plastic bottles consume an additional 90,000 particles annually, compared to only 4,000 particles for people who only drink tap water.
The researchers warn that their findings are likely to be drastic underestimates of the problem. Several major U.S. food groups – including poultry, beef, dairy, grains, and vegetables – have not been studied for their microplastic contamination. Thus, the estimate of microparticle ingestion is associated with only 15% of an average person’s caloric intake. Furthermore, there is no assessment currently available for how much plastic might be entering our bodies from food packaging.
The report’s findings suggest that microplastics will continue to be found in the majority if not all items intended for human consumption. Realistically, the only way to reduce the human consumption of microplastics will be to reduce the production and use of plastics.
Photo, posted June 18, 2016, courtesy of Sirirat Kornsongkaew via Flickr.