From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Microplastics
Mains level : Microplastics Contamination
A study by researchers from The Netherlands has found Microplastics in blood samples. About half of these were PET (polyethylene tertraphthalate) plastics, which is used to make food grade bottles.
What are Microplastics?
- Microplastics are tiny bits of various types of plastic found in the environment.
- The name is used to differentiate them from “macroplastics” such as bottles and bags made of plastic.
- There is no universal agreement on the size of microplastics. It defines microplastic as less than 5mm in length.
- However, for the purposes of this study, since the authors were interested in measuring the quantities of plastic that can cross the membranes and diffuse into the body via the blood stream.
- Hence they agreed on an upper limit on the size of the particles as 0.0007 millimetre.
What were the plastics that the study looked for in the blood samples?
- The study looked at the most commonly used plastic polymers.
- These were polyethylene tetraphthalate (PET), polyethylene (used in making plastic carry bags), polymers of styrene (used in food packaging), poly (methyl methylacrylate) and poly propylene.
- They found a presence of the first four types.
Significance of the study
- Making a human health risk assessment in relation to plastic particles is not easy, perhaps not even possible, due to the lack of data on exposure of people to plastics.
- In this sense, it is important to have studies like this one.
- The authors of the paper also remark that validated methods to detect the tiny (trace) amounts of extremely small-sized (less than 10 micrometre) plastic particles are lacking.
- Hence this study, which builds up a methods to check the same, is important.
Health hazard of microplastics
- It is not yet clear if these microplastics can cross over from the blood stream to deposit in organs and cause diseases.
- The report point out that the human placenta has shown to be permeable to tiny particles of polystyrene ( 50, 80 and 24 nanometre beads).
- Experiments on rats where its lungs were exposed to polystryrene spheres (20 nanometre) led to translocation of the nanoparticles to the placental and foetal tissue.
- Oral administration of microplastics in rats led to accumulation of these in the liver, kidney and gut.
- Further studies have to be carried out to really assess the impact of plastics on humans.
Try this PYQ:
Q. Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into environment?
(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.
(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.
(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.
(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.
Post your answers here.