Micro plastics are found everywhere around us, they are in the air we breathe, the water we drink the food we eat and they are even added to some products we use on a daily basis. Until the last decade not much has been known about the impact micro plastics and plastic microfibres are having on people and their health. Currently scientists are taking the presence of these materials in the environment and their potential health implications seriously.
Research has shown that microplastics are polluting the air, land and water ways across the globe on a massive scale. It’s true that scientists have recently found nano plastic materials or micro plastics pretty much everywhere they looked.
Samples taken from Antartic ice, remote land areas, rivers and even at the bottom of the oceans all revealed to be contaminated by this plastic pollution. With approximately 335 million tons of new plastic created each year it’s not surprising that the levels of airborne plastic pollution across the globe is rising at alarming rates.
What are microplastics?
Micro plastics are tiny particles of plastics that have a surface size usually between 0.02mm and 0.05mm but can be even smaller. They can be tiny, microscopical size, some so small that they are not visible to the human eye.
One way that micro plastics are formed is when types of plastic or materials containing plastics decay and start to breakdown, small particles are released into the environment from plastic waste streams and carried into the air. Not all micro plastics are a waste generated product, some micro plastics such as micro beads and microfibres are manufactured for commercial purposes. Manufacturing processes are also a major contributor to micro plastic pollution.
Micro plastics are often manufactured for specific uses, for instance within things like cosmetics. The little particles found in facial scrubs that make them feel abrasive are just one example of the industrial uses of microplastics and are also known as microbeads. So, it’s not just air-borne micro plastics that are causing concern. Uses such as some face creams or scrubs, abrasive hand cleaners and products like these all introduce microplastics, in the form of microbeads into our water systems too. Fortunately, the use of microbeads is banned in the manufacturing process in many countries including the U.K but not all countries have outlawed their use as yet and are still adding to the issue.
What is the problem with Microplastics and why the concern?
Micro plastics are considered a potential hazard as more scientists are looking at the implications to lung health and other health implications. We are surrounded by them, they are everywhere, they’re in the air we breathe, we are literally inhaling micro plastics from the air deep into our lungs. A recent study into cancerous lung samples showed that micro plastics were present although the direct link to cancer is yet to be proven, researchers believe it’s not good for the lungs to have these plastics present.
It’s estimated that the average person actually eats over 50,000 microparticles each year, as with inhaling, the damage or long-term dangers are yet to be discovered and more research funding is required to discover the true impact, and medical dangers present.
Microplastics have been found to travel on saliva into other parts of the body such as the stomach and other organs, they really do find their way everywhere which is most concerning for many of the scientists doing research. Plastics and microplastics can carry toxic materials and dangerous microbes deep into our bodies where they can lie there for a long time. Plastics don’t breakdown in the body, they just hang around.
Another way that microplastics are introduced to the environment and then into our bodies is through micro plastic fibres, these tiny particles of plastic are spun together to make synthetic material for use in clothes and fabrics. It’s the shedding of this material through general wear and tear that contribute to the airborne levels we breathe in and to the pollution even though we don’t pay much attention to it.
To date there is no solid plan or scheme to harvest the microplastics for any type of recycling scheme, advances in the technology are needed to first understand more of the harm they cause to humans and the environment and what can be done to first alleviate the production of this pollution and then to find a way to clean up the mess already created by microplastics to the planet.
Not enough is known about microplastics or microfibres and the long-term effect they could have on people and the longer-term damage we could incur. Experts have lots of theories and more and more research is being carried out to learn about microplastics and the dangers they present.
In years to come we could be faced with a medical nightmare not unlike the Asbestos situation, where the materials that were once considered safe to use for decades only to find out later that millions of people were and are still dying from cancers and other illness derived from asbestos absorption and inhalation.
For now, we must monitor the situation and always look for a greener more environmentally way of producing and using the things we need and the things that make life more pleasant but we need to consider some things we use today are creating more problems than they solve.