Microplastic pollution: recent study shows the presence of microplastics in human blood

25 March 2022

A pioneering study trying to detect the presence of microplastic pollution in human blood was published this week, showing alarming results.

Microplastics were found in the blood of almost 80% of the people tested. Although the impact on our health is still unknown, the research demonstrated that these particles could travel in the body and possibly lodge in organs. 

Plastic waste is submerging the planet. These tiny particles enter the body via food, water, and air. Although the presence of microplastics was detected both in babies’ and adults’ feces, past studies showed that the levels were higher in babies’ ones.

The amount and type of plastic detected in the blood tests varied considerably. Prof. Vethaak, a member of the team that conducted the study, explained that the variation might be due to the short-term exposure of some candidates to microplastics. The professor remarked that many questions are still answered. Future studies will have to determine whether these particles are retained in the body, whether they are transported to organs, and whether an excessive presence of these microplastics can trigger diseases. 

Another worrying finding was that PET plastics and polystyrene were detected in the blood samples. These materials are generally used for plastic bottles and food packages. 

In December 2020, SAFE wrote a report about recycled plastic in food contact materials (FCM). SAFE stressed the importance of considering recycled plastics in FCMs as a high-risk issue because of the high possibility of hazardous substances migration from FCMs containing recycled plastics into foods.  Food contact materials (FCMs) are defined as “all the materials and articles that are intended to be put into contact with food, and beverages, or will presumably be in contact with food, or beverages” and are regulated by the Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 of 27 October 2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. It includes food packaging, kitchen equipment, tableware, etc. These items can be made from a variety of materials including plastics, rubber, paper, and metal. Previous misuses by consumers, cross-contamination from waste disposal and environmental contaminants make likelihood of hazardous substances higher in recycled plastics than in virgin ones. The exposure of hazardous substances poses a threat to human health, specifically, a risk of “cocktail-effect” may arise in case of simultaneous exposure to different substances through FCMs and the lack of research concerning the effect of chemical mixtures on human health. Several studies indicate that the migration level of those substances into food is higher with recycled plastic. 

It is clear that the prevention of consumers’ health needs to consider the food contact materials that they daily use. Last October, SAFE published its Guidelines for consumers and consumer organization on the safe use of FCMs, with the aim to inform consumers about the correct use of FCM and the possible safety issue triggered by their misuse. SAFE advocates for a new European regulation on chemicals in food contact materials which would ensure a high level of human health protection and stresses that the presence and migration of chemical substances in food contact articles must be measured, evaluated, and controlled.