Microplastics (MPs) are everywhere. They’re in the air, water, house dust, and poop. Your poop and even your baby’s poop. Or, according to a recently published study, especially in baby and infant poop.
MPs are infinitesimal and unseen to the naked eye but present measured at <5mm in size and are a concern globally among the scientific community.
While it was once thought these MPs passed through the gastrointestinal tract and exited the body without impact, recent studies show that in animal subjects, this kind of exposure can cause cell death, inflammation, and metabolic disorders.
Microplastics are insidious. Long purported to be inert; they are not. We now know that microplastics are harmful to the environment and lab studies of in vitro exposures have shown adverse health effects for animals.
In a new study released in September, all adults tested had some of these MPs in their feces. The newborn meconium tested was also filled with plastic particles, according to this small study. However, the babies had over 10 times the plastic particles in their feces compared to the adults.
Previous studies have tried to assess just how much microplastic is in the average adult’s diet. Their conclusions were that the average range was 0.10–5.0g—but the actual amount varies greatly owing to numerous factors. The study shows the plastic is clearly being ingested. We must look and study more deeply to understand where it comes from, what the harm is, and how to avoid it.
Other questions must be answered such as, Why do infants have so much more microplastic in their poop than adults? The answer is likely the plastics they are exposed to, from bottles, toys, plates, and even house dust. But more studies are clearly needed. Still, in conclusion, the authors of this study are calling for baby products to be made without plastics.
For me, the study shines a light on the fact that we do not clearly know the potential harm from these materials. And yet, governments around the globe let plastics into the marketplace with zero regulation, monitoring, or plans for cleanup.
We know plastics have a lifespan that greatly exceeds the human life. We know that fish die from ingesting plastics. We know that birds die from ingesting plastics, and whales do too. I find myself asking what happens to humans then when we ingest plastic in the form of microparticles? We deserve the answer.
In the meantime, I will continue avoiding plastic everywhere I can. Here’s how to get started reducing your plastic use.
One of the authors, Dr. Leo Trasande MPP, says: “The study’s findings are as disturbing as they are not surprising. The safe and simple steps are the same as I advise in general—avoiding using plastic when feasible—particularly, containers with recycling numbers 3, 6 and 7, and avoiding machine dishwashing and microwaving plastic. The health effects of the molecules that are directly absorbed are much better understood than the microplastics, and we need to focus on a method to easily measure exposure to MPs in people and examine effects.”
For now, there’s no way around it. Microplastics are everywhere. It’s a crappy problem that’s not going away unless we continue to create awareness—an important step toward generating interest in this necessary research. Parents can share this information by writing school leaders and contacting local, state, and federal officials, urging them to support legislative bans for plastics.