UVic study shows humans consume a lot of microplastics

A study out of UVic shows that humans unknowingly consume a lot of microplastics in their daily lives.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, which come from degradation or shedding of larger products, like water bottles, synthetic clothes, and plastic packaging.

Co-author of the study and biology PHD candidate at UVIC, Garth Covernton, spoke with CTV Vancouver Island, and says they conducted the research by reviewing 26 previous studies and published papers on microplastics in food, drinking water and the air.

They took into account the dietary guideline recommendations in the US to determine the amount of plastic an average person consumes annually.

"What we found is that the numbers are quite high, ranging from 70 to over 100,000 particles per year that can be ingested by humans when you account for food, drinking water, and for air."

Covernton goes on to say that the number increases significantly in people who drink bottled water.

"We found about a 22 fold increase in plastic ingestion when you're talking about only drinking bottled water versus tap water.  So that suggests that bottled water is really contaminated with microplastics."

The report also looked at air contamination, which can come from a variety of sources.

"A big one is textiles, or clothing that we're wearing, shedding fibres and getting into the water as well as into the air and into animals and food that we are eating.  But also there are other things that could be a source, for an example plastic packaging or basically anything that can degrade and produce small particles and become airborne are a potential source."

The research was focused mainly on water and air, and a few select foods.  Microplastic research started with ocean life, so seafood and shellfish were the main focus on food contamination, but alcohol, salt, and sugars were also studied.  Covernton says once they test foods from the terrestrial environment, like beef, poultry, grains, fruits, and vegetables, they'll have a more clear amount of plastic that humans consume. 

Covernton also says there has been concerns with health issues as a result of consuming plastic, but he doesn't have many answers.

"There has been concern about us ingesting plastic based on the potential for harm, so whether that could be from the plastics themselves, or from other chemicals that could be absorbed by the plastics, or added onto them during production.  So some of those affects could potentially be related to inflammation, localized inflammation occurring if they tend to accumulate, but we really don't know exactly what they are doing, and that's really going to take more research from more medically minded researchers."

He adds that there are no studies comparing plastic consumption levels, because people around the world are exposed to microplastics in the air and water, so there is no control group to use as a baseline.

Covernton says people use a huge amount of plastic, and most of it isn't properly disposed of and sticks around for a long time.  He says people need to move away from single-use plastic, find proper ways to dispose of plastics, stop it from going into the environment, and slow down, and eventually stop, producing plastic products.

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