Plastics can be found in many products in daily life. However, it typically takes a long period, up to hundreds or even thousands of years, for this material to degrade. This results in many health and environmental problems.
During deterioration, plastics can be broken down into tiny elements called microplastics, which may range from 1 to 5 mm in size.
Microplastics are present almost everywhere, from foods and drinks to household objects and the surrounding air. This makes it inevitable to avoid direct exposure.
Scientists have found that microplastic exposure would result in inflammation, DNA damage, and cell death in the body cells.
Previous studies suggested that small plastic particles may penetrate the cell membrane and build up in tissues. Microplastics have been found in different parts of the body, such as the human blood, placental tissue, feces, and colon.
A new study by scientists from the Hull York Medical School and the University of Hull has recently identified the presence of microplastics in human lungs. The results were published in the Science of the Total Environment.
In this research, samples were collected from lung tissues after surgery for lung cancer and lung reduction. There were 11 participants, with 55 percent of them being male and an average age of 64 years.
A technique called μFTIR was then implemented to identify tiny microplastic particles smaller than 3 micrometers. The authors found microplastics in all lung regions, with 39 microplastics in 11 out of 13 samples. On average, 3 microplastics were present in each sample.
Among the identified microplastics, 12 types were identified. There are 4 types with the largest number, including:
– Polyethylene: present in detergent bottles, toys, milk containers, and food wrappers
– Resin: found in protective paints and coating
– Polyethylene terephthalate: found in food and drink containers or clothing
– Polypropylene: present in automotive plastics, clothing, and carpets.
Since lungs play an important role in filtering for the body, it is actually not surprising to find microplastics in these organs. However, scientists did not expect the highest number in the lower areas of the lungs. This is because the airways are typically smaller there, making it more difficult for microplastics to get trapped.
With current data, it is still not clear whether the presence of microplastics in the human lungs may lead to certain health effects in the long term. More research is needed to determine this link.