The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Microplastics Detected in Human Stool Samples for First Time
Humanity has created more than 9 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, when large-scale production of the material first took off. Of that total, a staggering 76 percent has gone to waste. These days, plastics are found in most table salt, marine life and the deepest parts of the ocean. So is it any surprise that they have made it into our bodies, too?
Plastic particles were found in all the stool samples of eight participants from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria found. On average, 20 microplastic particles per 10g of stool were detected.
Nine different types of plastic, sized between 50 and 500 micrometers, were identified. Widely used varieties such as polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) plastics were most commonly found.
"This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut," lead researcher Philipp Schwabl commented in a press release. "Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases."
Schwabl also raised concerns that the plastics could work their way into other parts of the human body.
"While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver," he said. "Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health."
The research was presented Monday at the 26th United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna.
In the pilot study, the participants kept a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sampling. Their entries showed that they were exposed to plastics by consuming foods that were wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. Six of the participants also ate sea fish and none were vegetarians.
Based on the findings, the researchers estimated that "more than 50 percent of the world population might have microplastics in their stools," though larger-scale studies will be needed to confirm this, The Guardian reported.
It has long been suspected that plastics are making their way into the larger food web, as 8 million tons of the stuff leaches into the oceans every year. Microfibers, which get washed into the sea from our laundry, as well as tiny shards that break off of larger plastics, are often gobbled up by plankton, fish and other sea animals, and ultimately consumed by humans.
"I'd say microplastics in poop are not surprising," Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the effects of microplastics on fish, told National Geographic. "For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates. And yes, we need to study how it may affect humans."
Governments around the world are waking up to the mounting crisis and have introduced legislation to curb single-use plastic consumption. Some companies are taking steps to reduce their plastic footprint.
Environmental groups are also urging corporations to stop producing so much plastic in the first place.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.
Aerial photos of the Sierra Nevada — the long mountain range stretching down the spine of California — showed rust-colored swathes following the state's record-breaking five-year drought that ended in 2016. The 100 million dead trees were one of the most visible examples of the ecological toll the drought had wrought.
Now, a few years later, we're starting to learn about how smaller, less noticeable species were affected.
Natthawat / Moment / Getty Images
Disinfectants and cleaners claiming to sanitize against the novel coronavirus have started to flood the market, raising concerns for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which threatened legal recourse against retailers selling unregistered products, according to The New York Times.
The global coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily routine into disarray. Billions are housebound, social contact is off-limits and an invisible virus makes up look at the outside world with suspicion. No surprise, then, that sustainability and the climate movement aren't exactly a priority for many these days.
By Molly Matthews Multedo
Livestock farming contributes to global warming, so eating less meat can be better for the climate.