A study conducted by Environment Agency Austria shed fresh light on the extent of microplastics in the food chain- finding microplastics in human stools for the first time.
In order to come up with this conclusion, the researchers collected eight participants' stool from both Europe and Asia. They sent these subjects to a laboratory in Vienna. There, the scientists used a Fourier-transform infrared microspectrometer to analyze them. Surprisingly, microplastic particles were discovered in every single sample. This suggested that the tiny toxic pieces might be ubiquitous in our food chain.
From the 10 plastic varieties that were tested for, 9 types of these pieces were found in sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometers. The most common types of plastics found in their stools were polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate.
Mathematically, 20 particles of microplastic were found in each 10g of the feces.
read more about microplastics in my earlier article!
The authors appraised that "over 50% of the world population might have stools containing microplastics" from this study. Yet, they did underscore the deficiency of evidence from larger-scale studies to countenance the estimation.
A researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who led the study named Philipp Schwabl commented, “This is the first study on microplastics in humans' digestive system, and it confirms our long-term prediction: plastics ultimately reached the human gut. Our concern, primarily, is the danger warning it is giving to all of us, especially to patients with gastrointestinal diseases."
The successful studies finding plastics in fish guts provided a precedent for this particular study. In addition, microplastics have been found in tap water from countries in all continents, in the large bodies of water we rely on, and in flying insects. A recent investigation in Italy also proved the large presence of microplastics by finding them in soft drinks.
“The smallest of microplastic particles can enter the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and even set foot in the liver," cautioned Schwabl, the lead-researcher in the study on microplastics in human stool who reported on the study at UEG Week in Vienna on October 23rd, 2018. “Now that we hold the first evidence of microplastics' existence inside humans, what we need to do is to further research for better understanding of what this means for human health."
According to researchers, plastic pieces could adversely affect the digestive and immune systems or could assist the transference of deadly chemicals and pathogens when they enter the human guts.
The source, or origin of the small and bendable materials found in the excrement samples is unknown. People whose excrement samples were studied kept a food diary for weeks. None of the food that they were exposed to or consumed was wrapped in plastic or contained in plastic containers. Plus, they were all omnivores- not vegetarians or meat-only eaters- but six of them ate fish.
Still, little do the scientists know about the effects of microplastics entering our bodies, though many investigations and studies that found them contained in foods that people commonly eat such as fish were operated. Therefore, the UK started a new study of health impacts.
As our plastic consumption is so wide in range in modern life, removing it as a whole at once is impossible. Statistically, a million plastic bottles are sold around the world every minute but the number is expected to soar by another 20% by 2021, emerging with one million two hundred thousand plastic bottles.
There are measures being taken to prevent the "rising tide of plastic pollution." For instance, some countries like the United States are banning the manufacturing of microbeads. Campaigns ran by the UN and other green organizations, are targeting plastic flotsam and disposing to save the sea life from the dangers plastic poses.
"We didn't study harm," Schwabl said. "We showed the world that what we believed- microplastics in human stool- is now a fact. We know it, and that's important."