While macroplastics are a visible problem, microplastics and nanoplastics which are generated through physical, biological and chemical actions on plastic are emerging as a more serious health hazard. Due to their invisible nature, microplastics and nanoplastics can enter our bodies through products that contain nano-plastics such as scrubs, lipsticks, mascara, shampoos etc., other than by consumption of seafood. Recent studies have also found microplastics in tap and bottled water. Workers in textile and PVC industries also inhale nanoplastics unknowingly.
According to industry estimates, an average Indian consumes approximately 11 kg of plastic products in various forms every year
Scientists say that plastic particles can reach our stomach, and depending on their size, these plastics are either excreted, get entrapped in stomach and intestinal lining or move freely in body fluids such as blood, thereby reaching various organs and tissues of the body.
The Guardian reports that a study carried out by Austrian scientists had shown that stool from individuals in eight surveyed countries contained microplastics. Similarly, high levels of BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical used for making several plastics has been found in the urine of teenagers, in another study done by scientists from the University of Exeter based at United Kingdom.
How do microplastics affect humans?
A number of studies have shown negative effects of plastics on the nervous system, hormones, immune system and the cancer-inducing property of plastics are already well-known. Scientists are now trying to understand how the basic machinery of body interacts with plastic particles.
In a new study, Chandrasekaran, Professor at Vellore Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu—who is engaged in studying the impact of microplastics in humans—and his colleagues have looked at the interaction of nanoplastics with blood proteins and cells. Nanoplastics aggregate in the blood, obstructing its flow in the body and render blood proteins non-functional.
It was found that blood proteins such as albumins, globulins, fibrinogens, which play an important role in osmotic pressure, molecular transport, blood coagulation, immune response etc., are absorbed on the surface of nanoplastics forming plastic-protein complex with size ranging from 13 to 600 nanometers. Once plastic particles are fully surrounded by proteins, the plastic-protein complexes are attracted towards each other resulting in aggregation of these complexes.
Scientists say that these aggregates in blood stream can block flow of body fluids. Aggregated plastic-protein complex is more toxic and potent in causing the death of white and red blood cells than the nano-plastic alone.
It’s time you looked more closely at every product you consume.