Bottle-Fed Babies May Consume Millions of Microplastic Particles a Day
The process of preparing and mixing a baby bottle formula seems innocuous, but new research finds this common occurrence is actually releasing millions of microplastic particles from the bottle's lining, Wired reported.
Microplastics are particles that are smaller than five millimeters long. Sterilizing and mixing formula may also release trillions of nanoplastic particles, which are billionths of a meter long, Wired reported.
The new study published in Nature Food found that the amount of microplastic babies consume is much larger than previous estimates. "We were absolutely gobsmacked," study co-author John Boland told The Guardian. "A study last year by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated adults would consume between 300 and 600 microplastics a day — our average values were on the order of a million or millions."
"The numbers are, well, frightening," Deonie Allen, who studies microplastics at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, but wasn't involved in the research, told Wired. "They're bigger than any exposure tests that have been done before for human uptake."
The researchers examined the amount of formula that infants up to a year old consumed in 48 global regions. They discovered that, on average, bottle-fed babies were exposed to 1.6 million microplastic particles a day, The Guardian reported.
"We have to start doing the health studies to understand the implications," Boland told The Guardian. "We're already working with colleagues to look at what buttons in the immune system these particles begin to press."
The researchers explained their methodology and results in The Conversation. They used common polypropylene baby bottles, and followed the WHO's 2007 guidelines for preparing baby formula. This involved cleaning, sterilizing and mixing formula. The results were that bottles released up to 16 million particles per liter of water heated to 158 degrees F. The number of particles jumped to 55 million at 203 degrees F.
Not only does hotter water shed more microplastics, but so does shaking the bottle, which is a common practice for reconstituting formula.
However, the researchers also created a simple four-step method for reducing microplastic exposure, detailed in The Conversation:
- Rinse sterilized feeding bottles with cool, sterile water.
- Always prepare formula in a non-plastic container.
- After formula has cooled to room temperature, transfer it into the cooled, sterilized feeding bottle.
- Avoid rewarming prepared formula in plastic containers, especially with a microwave oven.
The last step resonated with Boland. He told Wired, "I think the important learning is never, ever, ever use a microwave oven to heat anything with a plastic container. Because what happens is you get in fact the local heating of the plastic and the water together, which gives enhanced levels of microplastic generation. And so that combination we think is particularly potent."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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