Researcher Alvise Vianello analyzed foreign materials found in soil, drinking water, oceans, sewage, and air. Vianello, who studies microplastic contamination at Aalborg University in Denmark, looked at computer screens showing the machines' readouts. He found plastic, plastic, and more plastic.
According to Vianello, those results are not surprising. This substance is everywhere, even within us. His latest research suggests that when we spend time indoors, we are probably filling our lungs with tiny particles of plastic released by all the plastic things in our apartments.
He and his research team found that when a gleaming “mannequin,” a metal and resin machine spends time in an average apartment, it reeks of 11.3 of these pieces of plastic, called microplastics, every hour. The scientists say that while their experiment cannot prove that people are inhaling microplastics, their results suggest that it is likely and that the next logical step should be to look for microplastics in the lungs of a real human.
"This is the first evidence of human exposure to microplastic by breathing indoor air," said Jes Vollertsen, Vianello's colleague and study author, in his Aalborg University laboratory last week.
Microplastics have long been known to damage lung tissues and cause cancer, asthma attacks, and other health problems. Additionally, these particles often contain toxic chemical additives or pollutants that are known to change the way human hormones work. A body of research from previous decades reveals that people who work with textiles and plastic-based powders are at increased risk for respiratory problems.
Very recent research shows that microplastic is dominant in the US food supply and can be found in human feces, suggesting that we are probably swallowing a lot of microplastics when we eat and drink.
On this particular afternoon at the university, Vollertsen and Vianello reviewed their experiment: In the small town of Aarhus, Denmark, they found three graduate students with three identical apartments who were willing to share their spaces with the breathing mannequin for three days each. .
The scientists sat a mannequin on each student's kitchen table, adjusting its surface temperature and respiratory rate to mimic that of a human. The mannequin remained for 24 hours, for a total of three days, in each apartment, inhaling and exhaling with its pneumatic mechanical lungs through the mouth opening.
The manikin's inner breathing tubes contained fine mesh to filter inhaled air. The scientists used special software to identify and analyze the particles collected by the mesh, which could tell them what types of plastics they found, such as nylon and polyethylene.
Vianello showed some results, including a color-coded map of all the particles the mannequin had inhaled during one of his 24-hour sessions in the apartment. Dominating the map were light gray spots that indicated the presence of proteins, in this case, skin cells, there were also dark gray spots and threads that indicated plant material.
The gray shapes were interspersed with a rainbow of spots and lines representing dozens of types of plastic fragments and fibers. The results suggest that humans are likely breathing in lots of dead skin cells, some plant bits, and a surprising amount of microplastics.
"[Microplastic] particles and fibers, depending on their density, size and shape, can reach the deep lung causing chronic inflammation," said Joana Correia Prata, a doctoral student at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, who was not involved in the study. . Through his own work, Prata has highlighted the need for systematic research on the effects of respiration in microplastics on human health.
"Studies on occupational exposure to very high concentrations of microplastics in the air, such as in the synthetic textile industry, have found that workers suffer from respiratory problems," he said. "However, the development of diseases by chronic exposure to low concentrations of microplastics in the air in our homes has not yet been demonstrated."
In recent years, scientists have identified plastic particles in indoor and outdoor air. But previous studies rely on vacuum cleaners or atmospheric consequences to collect microplastics in the air. This is the first study to use a manikin that simulates human breathing with inhalation and exhalation, and is based on what are now considered the most accurate and simplified methods of analysis.
Despite the evidence that plastic is entering human bodies and could be harming us, there has not been a modern systematic search for it, or the damage it could be causing to our health (although we routinely open dead marine mammals, revealing large amounts of microplastic).
Vianello and Vollertsen said their findings led them to start talking with researchers at their university hospital for future collaborative research, perhaps looking for plastic inside human corpses. Other experts have also called for human health studies on the effects of microplastics similar to those studying the effects of airborne particles on human health.
"We now have enough evidence that we should start looking for microplastics within human airways," Vollertsen said. "Until then, it is not clear whether or not we should worry that we are breathing plastic."
Written by Erica cirino. Article in English.