Plasti-what? First evidence of microplastics found in the human placenta

A recent study was just published that identified microplastics in the presence of human placentas.

January 8th, 2021

A recent study was just published that identified microplastics in the presence of human placentas.

Some background information on this study:

My take on this eye-opening study:

  1. Italy is a highly developed country, suggesting its citizens have the same or similar access to healthcare, food, technology, and similar environmental factors as us (North America). Thus, I suspect that similar results would be found if the same study was conducted here.
  2. While the sample size is small (n=6), 66% (more than half) were found to have microplastic fragments within the placenta. "Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the fetus development and in acting as an interface between the latter and the external environment, the presence of exogenous and potentially harmful (plastic) particles is a matter of great concern."
    • Knowing that certain plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA), it is particularly worrysome that it's in our bloodstream and we are unknowingly exposing the unborn fetus as well. We do not know what the long-term implications microplastics exposure has on immunity, and whether there will be transgenerational effects, affecting future generations
  3. Microplastics may be reaching the placenta via the bloodstream from the respiratory system (i.e. breathing) or gastrointestinal tract (i.e. ingesting). We are likely inhaling or ingesting microplastics in our surroundings due to the fact that plastic (in its many shapes and forms) is everywhere
  4. All the microplastic fragments in this study had a pigment (colour).
    • Three fragments were identified as stained polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer.
      • Side note: The Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that non-woven polypropylene fabric be used as the third-layer in cloth masks. The 3-ply layer in surgical masks are also made with polypropylene, placed between non-woven fabric. I am a huge advocate for wearing masks to reduce spread, but I am also cognizant of the fact that mask use may potentially lead us to inhale more microplastics, depending on the type of masks we are using. Since wearing a mask is unavoidable (and not wearing one is unacceptable in the midst of a pandemic), we must look to reduce our exposure to plastic in other aspects of our lives.
    • For the other nine fragments only the pigment was identified. These pigments are used to make: man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products
  5. We tend to forget that plastic does not decompose. Instead, it slowly breaks down (degrades) into smaller and smaller pieces into micro and nano-sized particles. "Atmospheric agents, such as waves, abrasion, ultraviolet radiation and photo-oxidation in combination with bacteria degrade plastic fragments into micro and nanosized particles." These particles will not be visible to the naked eye.
  6. While we may not be able to get down to zero exposure, we can certainly limit the amount of plastic we use in our own daily lives. Every decision you consciously make to reduce the use of plastic will have a positive impact on your health, your family's health, and the environment.

Here are 3 easy ways to start reducing your exposure to plastic!

  1. Use stainless steel water bottles. We use the insulated and reusable S'Well bottles in our household, and Thermos brand for the kids.
  2. Store food and leftovers in glass containers such as the Wean Green eco-friendly tempered glass containers or mason jars. This includes leftover takeout food; do not store leftovers in styrofoam containers. Never reheat your food in styrofoam containers!
  3. Ditch the cling wrap and use beeswax wraps instead. These Abeego beeswax food wraps are biodegradable, breathable, and reusable!

Some or all of this may be new to you, and some of you may be seasoned veterans in being plastic-free. Other ways you can reduce your plastic use is to swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one, buying soap or cleaning items in bulk, and also assessing what's in your bathroom. "Products that contain plastic polymers are deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lipstick, hair dye, shaving cream, sunscreen, insect repellent, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizers, hair spray, facial masks, baby care products, eye shadow, mascara and more. In some cases, these products are made of more than 90 per cent plastic."

What are your tips for reducing plastic use? Leave your tips below! If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check back often for other interesting topics!

- Janet

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