HUMANS may be consuming an estimated 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic pieces every year, according to an article published in the Environmental Science and Technology by the research team of Kieran Cox. The study looked into microplastics that are found in food items such as salt, seafood, sugar and alcohol. However, this is still an underestimate of what an average person consumes. If one were to factor in the microplastics that are also inhaled, the number of particles consumed by a person would increase to 74,000 pieces every year, according to the study.
Microplastics are plastics pieces that are 5 millimeters or smaller. Some can only be visible using a microscope. These can come in the form of fibers, beads and pellets, films, and fragments according to the Leah Bendell, an ecotoxicologist from Simon Fraser University of Canada. She also said that, because microplastics come from a wide variety of plastics and plastic additives, each one has the ability to accumulate toxic chemicals or even certain kinds of parasites and bacteria. Since these plastics are carriers for such materials into our bodies, there may be a cumulative effect on our health over time. Long term exposure to microplastics in our bodies may include impacts to our gut health and immune system. Research is still being conducted into the safe minimum level of microplastics ingested.
Even our waterways are not safe from microplastics. The research team of Kieran Cox also found that an average person who drank their water from plastic bottles would ingest 90,000 more particles of plastic compared to those who drank their water from the tap. We can prevent these health risks and the accumulation of microplastics in our environment by avoiding single use plastics (plastic utensils, drink bottles, straws, stirrers, etc.) and by lobbying for plastic bans in our regions.