Plastics in the Human Placenta

Microplastics found in human placentas, what this means for our future. 

Microplastics are particles of plastic which are smaller than five millimeters in size, which are formed by the deconstruction of plastic objects which are present in the environment. These plastics can lead to an increased exposure of other chemicals that can be linked to a variety of health problems, some of which are “reproductive harm and obesity, [and] issues such as organ problems and developmental delays in children”, from the Washington Post. This issue is extremely pertinent as on average, humans consume “39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year”, from GIbbens.

New research conducted in January of 2021, provides evidence that microplastics have been found inside of a human placenta, for the first time. Due to the nature of microplastics and their ability to be endocrine disruptors, they will result in long term health effects in humans, and it is worrisome they are being found in human placentas. In the study written by Svelato, six placentas were analyzed by Raman Microspectroscopy, and the results indicated the presence of microplastics. After further analysis by Raman Microspectroscopy, 12 microplastic fragments, which ranged in size, were found in four of the six placentas. The microplastics themselves were irregularly shaped, and each of them were pigmented. 

The results are worrisome when looking towards the future, as Svelato has concluded in the “last century, the global production of plastics has reached 320 million tons (Mt) per year)”, bringing about not only deteriorating human health, but also large environmental impacts such as microplastics and plastics in general being found in oceans. The fact that these microplastics were discovered in the placental tissue is a catalyst for deeper analysis on the human “immunological mechanism of self-tolerance”. This mechanism is used by the immune system to recognise the antigens that are self-produced as non-threatening, but also the immune system must take action on an appropriate response to foreign substances that should not be found in humans; for example microplastics. 

This study suggests that the implications of an industrial world is that human health is beginning to, and will continue to (without significant action), deteriorate. This poses a large threat to our wellbeing and we must work towards reducing our plastic usage, as we are seeing the effects of our consumption on our future generations. 

Works Cited

Gibbens, Sarah. “You Eat Thousands of Bits of Plastic Every Year.” Environment, 5 June 2019, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/you-eat-thousands-of-bits-of-plastic-every-year/.

Ragusa, Antonio, et al. “Plasticenta: First Evidence of Microplastics in Human Placenta.” Environment International, Pergamon, 2 Dec. 2020, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412020322297.

Reports, Consumer. “You’re Literally Eating Microplastics. How You Can Cut down Exposure to Them.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Oct. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/health/youre-literally-eating-microplastics-how-you-can-cut-down-exposure-to-them/2019/10/04/22ebdfb6-e17a-11e9-8dc8-498eabc129a0_story.html. 

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