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Alarm as microplastics are found in human blood for the first time


Microplastics, which have polluted air, water and food, have now been found in human blood.

Eight years ago, New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand urged federal regulators to ban microbeads, the tiny plastic particles often found in personal care products like shampoo and facewash that end up in waterways. Research conducted at SUNY Fredonia in 2012 and 2013 showed up to 1.1 million plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. High concentrations were found throughout the Great Lakes.

"They just don’t dissolve, so the fish are ingesting them and they’re dying, and it’s going to be a real environmental issue," said Gillibrand.

In 2015 President Barack Obama signed a law banning microbeads, but to this day they are still used in beauty products sold in other countries.

A new study funded by the Netherlands Organization For Health Research and Development, published in the journal Environment International, shows scientists have now found evidence of microplastics in human blood. In the study, 17 out of 22 healthy adults had plastic particles in their blood. Dr. David Carpenter, Director of the SUNY Albany Institute for Health and the Environment, says the particles enter the human body via food, cosmetic products, water and even air.

"They are sufficiently small that they pass cell membranes," Carpenter said. "Nobody knows for certain, but there's every reason to worry about them getting into the brain. And certainly they're going to create inflammation. And that inflammation is basically the precursor to cancer and many other diseases that humans are vulnerable for. So it's not a good thing. And we've really got to find ways of reducing our dependence on plastics. There's so omnipresent in everything we use, but then they don't go away, and then they degrade to these very small plastics, which now are in our bodies."

Researchers say further study is warranted to answer questions regarding the potential accumulation in the general population and toxicological and human health effects that may result from different exposure.

Pediatrician Leonardo Trasande directs the NYU Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards. He says we need to fundamentally renegotiate our relationship with plastic. "The human health costs of these exposures are likely in the order of $100 billion a year in the U.S. alone, or more," said Trasande. "And that needs to be put side by side with the cost of safer alternatives. A lot of people say there aren't human health or economic benefits to using the safer alternatives like glass and stainless steel for example, but the benefits are real."

WAMC commentator and President of Beyond Plastics Judith Enck is a former EPA regional administrator.

“This peer reviewed report comes on the heels of another report last year that for the first time identified microplastics, in the human placenta, both on the maternal side and the fetal side," Enck said. "I’m not surprised by these findings, because microplastics are everywhere. Microplastics are in plastic water bottles, microplastics are in beer, honey, it's in the air we breathe, it's even in the fish that we eat. So the fact that this is showing up in our bodies, is not surprising, but still very concerning. And I think makes the point that we can't recycle our way out of the plastic pollution problem.“

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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