Alarming Findings | Are We Inhaling Nanoplastics & What About Our Food?

Washington (GGM) Analysis | January 31, 2022, by Noreen Wise, Founder & CEO of Gallant Gold Media, and author; Image Credit: AdobeStock

Nanoplastic is a recently discovered novel hazard that potentially undermines human health the same way it negatively impacts animal and wildlife health, resulting in infertility, inflammation and cancer. The possible nanoplastic toxicological threat for humans is quickly being propelled to the forefront of our minds, following targeted research on the alarming plastic crisis that has reached the farthest corners of the earth. 

Nanoplastics are so tiny they’re invisible to the human eye, and can travel in the air more than a thousand miles. They are easily inhaled, especially in cities, which is of major concern to scientists. In the Greenland ice core, scientists were shocked to find nanoplastics that dated as far back as 1965; 25% of these nanoplastics were from automobile tires, which further underscores the harm to those living in cities.

In the Swiss Alps, scientists found nanoplastics that they determined traveled through the air from cities approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) away. Of the more than 43 trillion nanoplastic particles that scientists calculated land in Switzerland each year, some came from as far away as the Atlantic Ocean 2000 km (1,240 miles) away.

The difference between nanoplastics and microplastics is significant and the two words should not be interchanged. 

  • Microplastics – small plastic bits less than 5 mm (0.2 inches in diameter) 
  • Nanoplastics – infinitesimal specs of plastic with diameters less than 0.001 mm

Recent findings by the American Chemical Society (ACS) identified plastic packaging as the main source of the microplastics found in our food, bottled water, soda, and salt. “However, a thorough discussion of this topic is not possible when the notions of both microplastics and nanoplastics are combined. To date, there are no methods available to analyze nanoplastics in food, and only the presence of microplastics has been demonstrated through the methods available,” asserted the authors of the report, Alexandra tee Halle and Jean Francois Ghiglione.

“[Our] viewpoint highlights the complex environmental behavior and fate of nanoplastics that are distinct from microplastic particles. We advocate that the environmental fate and behavior of different plastic particle sizes are so unique, they should not be described together but researched and described independently.”

American Chemical Society

Researchers have determined that we eat approximately 100 bits of microplastic with every meal, which amounts to 1 credit card per week and 52 credit cards a year. Considering the reality that plastic contains toxic chemicals, it’s natural to instinctively choose to avoid food packaged in plastic in the likelihood microplastics and nanoplastics are proven conclusively to be toxic.

From the UNEP Published Scientific Assessment of Plastic Pollution:

“As plastics break down they transfer microplastics, synthetic and cellulosic microfibres, toxic chemicals, metals and micropollutants into waters, sediments, and eventually marine food chains. For humans, this can lead to hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and cancer. Whenever marine species are people’s main source of food, serious threats are posted by human uptake of microplastics via seafood. Plastics are also ingested through drinks and even common salt; they penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air. Mental health may be affected by the knowledge that sea turtles, whales, dolphins and many seabirds – which have cultural importance for various communities – are at risk.”

At the ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo during Covid, there were several graduate student presenters from the lab of Rolf Halden, PhD, at Arizona State University. Their names are Charles Rolsky and Varun Kelkar.

“You can find plastics contaminating the environment at virtually every location on the globe, and in a few short decades, we’ve gone from seeing plastic as a wonderful benefit to considering it a threat…There’s evidence that plastic is making its way into our bodies, but very few studies have looked for it there.”

Charles Rolsky, August 17, 2020

Research into whether or not nanoplastics undermines the health and well-being of animal and wildlife found that nanoplastic exposure resulted in cancer, inflammation and infertility in the species tested. At the time of the presentation to the American Chemical Society, Rolsky and Kelkar had discovered that nonoplastics do travel through our human GI tracks. They then speculated about whether nanoplastics accumulated in our organs.

To study this, Rolsky and Kelkar collaborated with Diego Mastroeni, PhD. They examined 47 samples from the four organs most likely to be exposed to infinitesimal plastic particles— lungs, kidney, spleen and liver — and created a testing procedure with Raman spectrometry, as well as an online computer program using a standardized format so that researchers everywhere could report their results. Dr. Halden remarked that “this shared resource will help build a plastic exposure database so that we can compare exposures in organs and groups of people over time and geographic space.”

These new findings about nanoplastic toxins in the air are of particular importance with global warming now at 1.2ºC. Rain bombs, flooding, hurricanes, and tornadoes are consistently spreading the dangerous chemicals found in lawn fertilizers, hazardous waste sites, chemical plants, and superfund sites. In the heat, these chemicals vaporize and we inhale them regularly. And now we learn that we have invisible nanoplastics to worry about, too. 

Let’s take these new warnings very seriously. I plan to wear my face mask outdoors all the time from now on, especially in cities.  

© Copyright 2018 – 2022. ALL Rights Reserved.

“This is not about saving our planet, it’s about saving ourselves…The truth is, with or without us, the natural world will rebuild.”
—Sir David Attenborough, A Life On Our Planet
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Our Microplastic Crisis and a Young First Responder

Washington (GGM) Analysis | October 23, 2020 by Noreen Wise

Microplastics have become an urgent health and environmental crisis. These tiny toxic particles are literally everywhere. In our water. In our food. And in our bodies. The five (5) millimeter flecks, smaller than an ant, are made up of broken down larger plastic objects such as water and soda bottles, single-use plastic bags, multiple everyday products that we don’t think twice about, cosmetics and toothpaste for example, even our synthetic clothes that shed tiny bits of plastic while churning around in our washing machine.

Back in September 2019, science blogger Kevin Dervishi spelled out in Harvard University’s Science in the News very clearly to readers, that each of us is a first responder in this alarming crisis. Every single one of us needs to rush to act. For many, the message fell on deaf ears, which has resulted in a continued path forward toward a looming catastrophe. 

As gloomy as this may seem, a bright glimmer of hope shines through the dark clouds along the Chesapeake Bay in Northern Virginia. A youth conservation activist has been inspired and is responding to the urgent call to action. Carolyn Rohr, of Fairfax, VA, has stepped into the arena. 

During Carolyn’s junior year of high school, she followed the advice of her AP environmental science teacher, and filled out an application for the Youth Conservation Leadership Institute in Fairfax County, VA. While involved in YCLI over the summer, Carolyn seized the opportunity to research the impact microplastics have on the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay after she discovered that microplastics are Chesapeake Bay’s biggest pollutant. This jarring fact was significant. Chesapeake Bay is a watershed connected to six Mid-Atlantic states, as well as the entire population of Washington DC, and serves more than 18 million people. The majority of microplastic particles slip through filters and into our water supply.

Carolyn presented her findings to a group of more than 50 accomplished adults over a Saturday morning Green Breakfast webinar. She created a lesson plan for 7th graders that aligned with Fairfax County’s educational requirements and included multiple activities. Her polished presentation was very powerful, inspiring immediate action. Her lesson plan would certainly be a positive influence for the 7th grade population in Northern Virginia, as well as communities across the country, inspiring increased involvement in acting on eliminating as much plastic from their daily lives as possible by forming plastic-free habits and choices.

Carolyn explained that there are three main ways that microplastics enter the Chesapeake Bay:

  • Plastics in landfills
  • Littering
  • Products that go down the drain

She outlined that toothpaste is a great example of how easy it is to unwittingly pollute our own water supply. She noted that cosmetics are another everyday example. Multiple brands of both products, contain microbeads, the abrasive exfoliant that is the essential ingredient for these particular product lines.

Carloyn cautioned webinar viewers that these microplastic particles release toxic chemicals, as well as trick organisms living in the water into believing they’re full when they’re not, so they often starve to death, and that microplastics also become part of the food web process.

Most importantly, Carolyn supplied valuable insights about what each and every one of us can do to reduce the toxic plastic we’re consuming.

  • Reduce single-use plastics
  • Recycle properly
  • Refuse products that contain microbeads, which shouldn’t be too difficult since they’re now banned in all 50 states
  • Volunteer to help cleanup rivers and streams
  • Most importantly SPREAD THE WORD 

When I asked Carolyn what examples she could provide for how to spread the word, she suggested: “Social media is a great way to spread the word and spark change, it’s one of the main reasons that microbeads are being outlawed in the US. Setting an example is another great way to not only spread the word, but also to encourage action. People learn from each other; the more people you see doing something the more likely you are to follow along, that’s probably why the save the turtles anti-straw trend was so huge a year or two ago. But it has since faded.” 

This sounds wonderful. I’m all in on this!

Carolyn Rohr is a military brat, who was born in Jacksonville, NC and has lived in a diverse collection of cities across the globe, including Okinawa, Japan when she was a young and impressionable five year old. While in Okinawa, Carolyn and her family had a home close to the ocean, where she spent “a lot of time playing in the tide pools and looking at the interesting creatures.” Her family eventually settled in Northern Virginia where’s she’s lived for the past ten years. Carolyn spends most of her time outdoors, and often feels torn between her love of the ocean and her passion for the mountains. “I feel like I could spend my entire life in the mountains and I would be quite happy.” 

As a high school senior, Carolyn is busy planning for her future. She is aiming for a dual major in Film and Marine Science and hopes to attend either University of Miami in Florida or University of Delaware, “Both schools have amazing Marine Science programs that I would love to be part of.”

Carolyn has a powerful message for all of us. “‘Only you can be the change you wish to see in the world.’ – Ghandi. The only way to see the microplastic problem disappear completely is to go out into your community and play an active role in fighting against it.”

Science blogger Kevin Dervishi’s ears must be burning. Young first responders are taking bold steps to help move us all in the right direction. The 18 million along the Chesapeake Bay are greatly benefited by Carolyn’s dedication and hard work to improve the health of our watershed. Let’s do our part by following her excellent advice.

© Copyright 2018 – 2020. ALL Rights Reserved.

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