Every time a plastic bag or bottle degrades, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that make their way to the corners of the environment.
When washing synthetic fabrics, tiny plastic fibers loosen up and flow into the sea. When you drive, pieces of plastic fly off your tires and brakes. That’s why literally everywhere scientists look, they’re finding microplastics – specks of synthetic material that are less than five millimeters long. They are in the majority remote peaks and in the deepest oceans. They are blowing great distances in the wind to sully regions that were once virgin. like the arctic. In 11 protected areas in the western US, the equivalent of 120 million plastic bottles ground they fall from the sky every year.
And now, microplastics are coming out of babies. On a recently published pilot study, the scientists describe examining the babies’ dirty diapers and finding an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) per gram of stool, 10 times the amount they found in the stool of adults. They even found it in the first feces of newborns. PET is an extremely common polymer that is known as polyester when used in clothing and is also used to make plastic bottles. The finding comes a year after another team of researchers calculated that preparing hot formula in plastic bottles severely erodes the material, potentially dosing babies with several million microplastic particles per day, and perhaps almost a billion a year.
Although adults are older, scientists think that babies are somehow more exposed. In addition to drinking from bottles, babies could be ingesting microplastics in many ways. They have a habit of putting everything in their mouths, plastic toys of all kinds, but they also chew on fabrics. (Microplastics released from synthetic textiles are known more specifically as microfibers, but they are plastic anyway). Baby food is wrapped in single-use plastics. Children drink from plastic baby cups and eat from plastic plates. The rugs they crawl on are usually made of polyester. Even hardwood floors are coated in polymers that eliminate microplastics. Any of this could generate tiny particles that children breathe in or swallow.
Indoor dust is also becoming one of the main routes of exposure to microplastics, especially for babies. (In general, the indoor air is absolutely lousy with them; every year I could be inhaling tens of thousands of particles.) Several studies of indoor spaces have shown that every day in a typical home, 10,000 microfibers can land on a single square meter of floor, having been blown off clothing, sofas and sheets. Babies spend a large part of their time crawling through the material, waving the settled fibers and lifting them into the air.
“Unfortunately, with the modern lifestyle, babies are exposed to so many different things that we don’t know what kind of effect they may have later in life,” says Kurunthachalam Kannan, an environmental health scientist at the School of Education of New York University. Medicine and co-author of the new article, which appear In the diary Environmental science and technology charts.
The researchers did their count by collecting dirty diapers from six one-year-olds and passing the stool through a filter to collect the microplastics. They did the same with three meconium samples, the first stool from a newborn, and stool samples from 10 adults. In addition to analyzing the samples for PET, they also looked for polycarbonate plastic, which is used as a lightweight alternative to glass, for example in eyeglass lenses. To make sure they only counted microplastics that came from the babies’ guts, and not their diapers, they discarded the plastic that diapers were made of: polypropylene, a polymer that is distinguished from polycarbonate and PET.
In total, PET concentrations were 10 times higher in infants than in adults, while polycarbonate levels were more uniform between the two groups. The researchers found smaller amounts of both polymers in meconium, suggesting that babies are born with plastics that are already in their systems. This echoes previous studies that have found microplastics in human placentas and meconium.
What all this means for human health and, more urgently, children’s health, scientists are now rushing to find out. Different varieties of plastic can contain any of at least 10,000 different chemicals, a quarter of which are of concern to people, according to a recent study of ETH Zürich researchers in Switzerland. These additives serve all kinds of plastic manufacturing purposes, such as providing flexibility, additional strength, or protection against UV bombardment, which degrades the material. Microplastics can contain heavy metals like lead, but they also tend to accumulate heavy metals and other pollutants that fall through the environment. They also readily develop a microbial community of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, many of which are human pathogens.
An alarming new study finds that infant stools contain 10 times more polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) than an adult’s. #microplastics #infants #plastics #PET
Of particular concern are a class of chemicals called endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which disrupt hormones and have been linked to reproductive, neurological, and metabolic problems – for example, increased obesity. The infamous plastic ingredient bisphenol A, or BPA, is one of those EDCs that has been linked to various cancers.
“We should be concerned because EDCs in microplastics have been shown to be linked to several adverse outcomes in human and animal studies,” says Jodi Flaws, a reproductive toxicologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led a 2020 study of the Endocrine Society on plastics. (She did not participate in this new investigation).
“Some of the microplastics contain chemicals that can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system.”
Babies are especially vulnerable to EDCs, as their body development depends on a healthy endocrine system. “I strongly believe that these chemicals affect the early stages of life,” says Kannan. “That is a vulnerable period.”
This new research adds to a growing body of evidence that babies are highly exposed to microplastics.
“This is a very interesting article with some very worrying numbers,” says University of Strathclyde microplastics researcher Deonie Allen, who was not involved in the study. “We need to look at everything a child is exposed to, not just their bottles and toys.”
Since babies are passing microplastics in their stools, that means the intestine could be absorbing some of the particles, just as it would absorb nutrients from food. This is known as a translocation: particularly small particles can pass through the intestinal wall and end up in other organs, including the brain. Researchers have proved this in carp by feeding them plastic particles, which traveled through the gut and made their way to the head, where they caused brain damage that manifested as behavioral problems: compared to control fish, those with plastic particles in the brain they were less active and ate more slowly.
But that was done with very high concentrations of particles and in a completely different species. While scientists know that EDCs are bad news, they still don’t know what level of exposure to microplastics it would take to cause problems in the human body. “We need many more studies to confirm the doses and types of chemicals in microplastics that lead to adverse results,” says Flaws.
Meanwhile, microplastics researchers say that children’s contact with the particles can be limited. Do not make hot water infant formula in a plastic bottle; Use a glass bottle and transfer to the plastic one once the liquid reaches room temperature. Vacuum and sweep to keep floors microfiber free. Avoid plastic wrappers and containers when possible. Microplastics have polluted every aspect of our lives, so while you’ll never get rid of them, you can at least reduce your family’s exposure.