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Understanding of effects of microplastics on human health urgently needed: Expert

Understanding of effects of microplastics on human health urgently needed: Expert


Posted on May 21, 2024 Updated on May 19, 2024

Understanding of the effects of microplastics on human health is urgently needed, according to Dr. LeepikaParulekar, consultant, general medicine, Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai.

Dr. Parulekar further explained that the health risks of exposure to micro plastics are just beginning to be understood. More detailed and conclusive evidence of how MNPs (micro and nanoplastics) accumulate in the body and have detrimental effects on human health can only spur the development and adoption of policies necessary for reducing the global impact of plastics and improving public and planetary health.

As the world’s burden of plastic becomes more and more untenable, international public health initiatives are aiming to manage the production, design and disposal of plastics more responsibly. In the case of microplastics, from October 2023, the European Union has restricted the intentional addition of microplastics to products and has set a target to reduce microplastics pollution by 30% by 2030. In a wider effort, the UN Environment Assembly, with the support of 175 nations, adopted a resolution on 2 March 2022 to develop a global plastics treaty, with the intention of drafting the treaty by the end of 2024.

Previously, researchers have reported microplastics to be potentially connected to colorectal cancer and to exacerbation of breast cancer metastasis.

Dr. Parulekar further explained that the effects of micro and nanoplastics on human health are just beginning to be documented. For example, a recent report described a potential link between their presence in blood vessels and cardiovascular disease.

In another study focusing on a potential link between microplastics and inflammatory bowel disease, types of microplastics were detected in human feces. The concentration of fecal microplastics was higher in people with inflammatory bowel disease than in healthy people, and the level of fecal microplastics correlated with the severity of the disease.

Although these studies did not demonstrate a causal link between the presence of microplatics and disease, they underscore the need to accelerate research on this topic. Among the most pressing questions are the amounts that are absorbed through ingestion, inhalation or skin exposure, and the amounts that accumulate in different tissues over the lifetime of a person, and how the different characteristics of micro and nano plastics–including their chemical composition, size and shape–affect those tissues.

DrParulekar concluded that research is also needed to study systemic effects mediated by the immune system or the microbiome, or direct cytotoxic effects of microplastics.

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