Quantcast

Scientists Warn That You Could Be Inhaling Chemically-Laden Microplastic Particles

Science

Microplastics, the scourge of beaches, oceans, waterways and aquatic life worldwide, might also be polluting the air we breathe, according to environmental health experts.

Micro plastic are a concern in oceans and other aquatic habitats, and now, possibly in the air. Photo credit: 5Gyres

The Guardian reported that a research team at King’s College in London is looking into the issue.

“There is a possibility, a real possibility, that some of those microparticles will be entrained into the air, and they will be carried around and we will end up breathing them,” said Frank Kelly, a researcher and professor of environmental health at King’s College, at an evidence session at the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in the UK.

According to The Guardian, Kelly said the microplastics could enter the air after sewage sludge is spread on fields and dries out. He also cited a French study that had detected the particles in the air.

“This is a horizon-scanning issue but the particles are of a size that they are [breathable], they are increasing in number in our environment and there is a question to be asked,” Kelly added.

Microplastics, or microbeads, are plastic particles with an upper size limit of 5 mm and are found in facial cleansers, toothpastes or disintegrate from larger pieces of plastic or synthetic clothing. These pieces are often too small to be filtered by sewage treatment plants so they get released into bodies of water where they are accidentally consumed by fish, birds or sea mammals.

 of the 5 Gyres Institute also wrote that massive clouds of microplastics are emanating from the five subtropical gyres, with an estimated 269,000 tons of plastic from 5.25 trillion particles. Alarmingly, as Eriksen pointed out, about 92 percent of that plastic is microplastic.

The tiny plastic is being eaten by zooplankton, the foundation of the marine food system, meaning it eventually makes it all the way up the ocean food chain. Because humans eat fish and other seafood it can end up in our bodies as well.

“[Microplastics] have the potential to cause physical and chemical harm, as demonstrated by laboratory studies," Kelly and his colleague Dr. Stephanie Wright said in a written statement. "They now present a human health risk, mainly due to their occurrence in dietary sources."

Plastics are known to leach potentially harmful chemicals that could interfere with human hormones. Kelly also noted that the health effects of microplastics are only just being looked at.

“If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation, in the same way as we worry about all the other vehicle-related emissions,” he warned.

The UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs submitted evidence to the EAC that stated, "even for high level consumers of seafoods that are most likely to be relatively highly contaminated with marine microplastics, dietary exposure to microplastic particles is likely to be relatively low compared with inhalation of microplastics."

The Independent reported that some EAC members were taken aback by the news that people might be inhaling plastic particles:

“This sounds like a very serious issue,” [committee member Rebecca Pow] said as some MPs appeared startled by the news, “we’re not laughing about it, we’re laughing hysterically.”

Dr. Erik van Sebille, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, told the EAC that plastic was a “fantastic material and we really wouldn’t want a society without plastic any more,” but added that plastic waste should be reduced to slow its “leakage” into the natural environment.

Dr. van Sebille said that ingested plastic has been found to make up 10 percent of the weight of seabirds.

“We don’t know how harmful this plastic is, but it is likely that just the weight burden on the bird flying around with so much plastic in their stomach is going to have an energy demand on the bird,” he said.

According to the Evening Standard, the Kings College research team said that air quality monitoring methods were being adapted to detect microplastics.

“If we find evidence that indicates microplastics can become airborne we plan to implement monitoring campaigns providing information on exposure levels via inhalation,” they said.

Microbeads are yet to be banned in the U.K. even though two-thirds of the British public think they should be.

Over on our shores, President Obama signedbill in December that will phase out the manufacturing of products containing microbeads by July 1, 2017, and the sale of such beauty products by July 1, 2018.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE 

5 Reasons Why You Should Think Twice Before Jumping Into Your Local River

Great Barrier Reef Could Be Dead in 20 Years

Duke Study: Rivers Contaminated With Radium and Lead From Thousands of Fracking Wastewater Spills

8 Takeaways From Nestle’s Secret Report Warning the World Is Running Out of Water

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Aerial assessment of Hurricane Sandy damage in Connecticut. Dannel Malloy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Extreme weather events supercharged by climate change in 2012 led to nearly 1,000 more deaths, more than 20,000 additional hospitalizations, and cost the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion, a new report finds.

Read More Show Less
Giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, California. lucky-photographer / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A Bay Area conservation group struck a deal to buy and to protect the world's largest remaining privately owned sequoia forest for $15.6 million. Now it needs to raise the money, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This aerial view shows the Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium, one of the venues for 2019 Rugby World Cup. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup starts Friday in Japan where Pacific Island teams from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will face off against teams from industrialized nations. However, a new report from a UK-based NGO says that when the teams gather for the opening ceremony on Friday night and listen to the theme song "World In Union," the hypocrisy of climate injustice will take center stage.

Read More Show Less
Vera_Petrunina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Wudan Yan

In June, New York Times journalist Andy Newman wrote an article titled, "If seeing the world helps ruin it, should we stay home?" In it, he raised the question of whether or not travel by plane, boat, or car—all of which contribute to climate change, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers—might pose a moral challenge to the responsibility that each of us has to not exacerbate the already catastrophic consequences of climate change. The premise of Newman's piece rests on his assertion that traveling "somewhere far away… is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change."

Read More Show Less
Volunteer caucasian woman giving grain to starving African children. Bartosz Hadyniak / E+ / Getty Images

By Frances Moore Lappé

Food will be scarce, expensive and less nutritious," CNN warns us in its coverage of the UN's new "Climate Change and Land" report. The New York Times announces that "Climate Change Threatens the World's Food Supply."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
British Airways 757. Jon Osborne / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Adam Vaughan

Two-thirds of people in the UK think the amount people fly should be reined in to tackle climate change, polling has found.

Read More Show Less
Climate Week NYC

On Monday, Sept. 23, the Climate Group will kick off its 11th annual Climate Week NYC, a chance for governments, non-profits, businesses, communities and individuals to share possible solutions to the climate crisis while world leaders gather in the city for the UN Climate Action Summit.

Read More Show Less

By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans

Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

Read More Show Less