The Plastic Within

Science Fields

Scientists have identified micro-plastics in human blood for the first time.

The problem of plastic wastes has long been concerning not only scientists but everyone living on the planet. Numerous studies are constantly being carried out to investigate the fate of plastics, what happens to them and where they accumulate, as they become waste in a very short time and take hundreds of years to decompose in nature even if they are broken down to smaller pieces. Plastic wastes are everywhere, from the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth, to the Pyrenees Mountains in France. And perhaps more troubling, in the seas and the oceans.

Microplastics are of special concern as they are too tiny to be seen with the naked eye, and therefore can easily be transported everywhere, carried far in the atmosphere, and can accumulate in the bodies of animals. Therefore, detecting it in human body should not come as a huge shock.

A team of Dutch researchers identified microplastics in roughly 80% of the blood samples taken from 22 people. Half of the plastics were identified as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and about a third as polystrene (styrofoam). Dr. Dick Vethaak, Professor of ecotoxicology at Vrije University, Amsterdam, says this is the first time these microplastics are detected and measured in human blood. Although the study was of small scale, conducted on a few individuals and with a low number of samples, the evidence is stated to be beyond doubt.

The researchers used steel needles, glass syringes and glass tubes to prevent contamination, and used techniques that are able to detect particles up to 0.0007 millimetres. However, they suggest that particles too large for the syringes to pick up may also be present in human blood.

So how do microplastics enter the body and where do they go? Besides being ingested via food, water, and air, they may as well be taken up from cosmetic products such as toothpaste and lipstick. How they travel in the body is currently unknown, but experts think they are possibly carried to organs and may even cross the blood-brain barrier. Although the exact health issues this may lead to remains a mystery for the time being, we already know from laboratory experiments that microplastics cause damage to human cells and the inhaled fragments lead to respiratory problems. Researchers also estimate that they may attach themselves to the outer membrane of red blood cells, reducing their oxygen carrying capacity. They also observed that the microplastics in foetuses of mice were transported from the lungs to the heart, brain and other organs. Babies and young children are much more sensitive. Other studies indicate that the number of microplastics in baby stools may be 10 times higher than the amount in adults.

Prof. Dr. Vethaak believes there is urgent need to broaden the scope of studies, to increase the number of samples and analyse more polymer types.



  • 1. https://phys.org/news/2022-03-scientists-microplastics-blood.html
  • 2. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/24/microplastics-found-in-human-blood-for-first-time