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Assessing the Human Health Risks of Nano- and Microplastics


Human exposure to nano- and microplastics (NMPs) has raised major societal concerns. A substantial proportion of plastic produced worldwide is not properly disposed of and persists in the environment for decades while degrading. This degradation generates a size continuum of fragments, including nano- and microplastic particles.

The Ubiquity of NMPs

Microplastics have been found everywhere – from the deepest place on the planet, the Mariana Trench, to the top of Mount Everest. They are also in our bodies. In recent years, microplastics have been documented in all parts of the human lung, in maternal and fetal placental tissues, in human breast milk, and in human blood.

Potential Health Risks
Numerous in vivo cellular and in vitro animal studies have demonstrated that microplastics exposure can cause liver fibrosis and metabolic disorders, significant impairment of kidney function, inflammatory response and functional impairment of lung, ecological imbalance and metabolic disorders of intestinal flora, and impairment of neurological function and affects reproduction.

A landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine links microplastics and nanoplastics found in plaques of human blood vessels to a potential increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death.

Occupational Hazards
There is compelling evidence that workers processing nylon, polyester, and polyamide fibers exhibited a higher prevalence of respiratory irritation, with severe symptoms being coughing, dyspnea, occupational asthma, and interstitial lung disease. This implies the health hazards of high-dose exposure of inhaled microplastics.

While there is a growing body of evidence suggesting potential health risks associated with NMPs, there are still many gaps in our understanding. More research is needed to fully understand the extent of human exposure to NMPs and the potential health risks they pose. It is clear, however, that reducing plastic pollution and improving waste management practices are crucial steps in mitigating these risks.

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