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.
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