Microplastics may harm human health, researchers at the University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht claimed on Thursday (03 October).
Research presented at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam revealed immune cells that recognise and attack microplastics will die quickly as a result of the contact.
Experiments showed that, under laboratory conditions, immune cells that encounter microplastics die around three times more quickly than those that don’t.
Some forms of accelerated cell death or damage can prompt an inflammatory response in the body.
‘The demonstrated impacts along the life cycle of plastic paint an unequivocally toxic picture: plastic threatens human health on a global scale. It’s high time businesses across the world took responsibility for the plastic they produce.’
Environmental Health Program Director at the Center for International Environmental Law
The study was led by Nienke Vrisekoop, Assistant Professor at the UMC Utrecht Center for Quantitative Immunology.
Microplastics coated in blood plasma were placed in culture dishes alongside human immune cells under laboratory conditions.
Some 20% of immune cells tested in culture dishes without microplastics died within 24 hours.
When immune cells came into contact with microplastics, 60% of the cells died within the same time period.
This rate of cell death is thought to be far in excess of when immune cells encounter and engulf most bacteria or foreign bodies.
‘Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their children will be profoundly worried about today’s findings.
‘With plastic production set to quadruple in the next decades, we need to ask ourselves – is this risk worth it for the sake of convenience in our throwaway lifestyle or is this finally the proof needed to turn off the plastic tap?
‘The Plastic Health Summit is a vital catalyst for us to finally understand the true cost of plastic on human health.’
A Plastic Planet co-founder
A growing body of evidence is pointing to the presence of microplastics in humans. Last year researchers at the Medical University of Vienna found 20 microplastic particles in every 10 grams of stool.
The Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam brought together respected health experts from around the world, to debate the latest state-of-the-art research on micro- and nanoplastics, plastic additives and health.
This was the first time the world’s top scientists have got together to explore new and existing research on the impact of plastics and health.
‘With this Summit, we want to prove once and for all that plastic doesn’t just harm nature and animals, but also ourselves. If we want to give our children and their children a fair chance, then all this proof is enough to turn the tide.’
Founder and director of the Plastic Soup Foundation
Organised by the Plastic Soup Foundation and supported by environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet, the summit presented vital new evidence that explores the link between plastic and ill-health.
Assistant Professor Nienke Vrisekoop said: ‘These results raise serious questions about what microplastics are doing to our immune health. Urgent further research is needed to paint as full a picture as possible.’
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