Babies have almost 15 times the level of microplastics in their bodies than found in adults, a new study suggests.
Microplastics are less than 5mm in size and are often released into the environment and people’s homes from having broken off from a larger body of plastic objects or materials.
Microplastics are used in a variety of industries, including cosmetics, biotechnology, washing products and drug capsules. But they can also be created when plastic objects are broken down. That can be from something as simple as washing synthetic clothes under a tap.
The researchers believe that the way babies are consuming such high levels of microplastics is through chew-toys like dummies and from crawling around on carpets that contain microplastics.
“Human exposure to microplastics is a health concern,” said Kurunthachalam Kannan, a professor in the paediatrics department at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the lead researcher on the study. “We need to make efforts to reduce exposure in children. Children’s products should be made free of plastics.”
“High concentrations of microplastics in the faeces of one-year-old infants can be attributed to extensive use of plastic products/articles such as baby feeding bottles, sippy cups, utensils such as spoons and bowls, plastic teethers, and toys, among others, during that growth stage.
The team looked for two common kinds of microplastics, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate (PC). To find PET and PC, they examined the levels of microplastics in the samples of faeces from 10 adults and six babies in New York State, US.
In all the samples they found at least one type of microplastic. Meaning it’s very likely there’s some microplastics in grownups too.
But when comparing the baby samples to the adults, the researchers found at least 10 times as much.
Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to what exactly the effects of microplastics are on human health.
But there is increasing concern that they can be very damaging when ingested.
Scientists used to believe microplastics would pass harmlessly through the gastrointestinal tract. But recent research suggests the smallest pieces are able to cross cell membranes and enter our circulation.
This is concerning because research on microplastics in lab animals has caused cell death, inflammation and metabolic disorders.
The research is published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.