Millennium Post (Kolkata)

A ticking bomb?

The presence of microplast­ics in human body organs, including placenta, as well as in foetuses, is well-document; it would be unrealisti­c to assume that they pose no risk


Arecent investigat­ion carried out by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences has revealed an alarming finding regarding the presence of microplast­ics in all the human placentas they investigat­ed. The research findings, published in the journal Toxicologi­cal Sciences in February 2024, emphasised the widespread presence of microplast­ics in human placentas.

It is important to note that the placenta is a temporary organ that links the mother and the foetus through the umbilical cord. It delivers nutrients and oxygen to the developing foetus and acts as a shield to keep infections or viruses from reaching it. As a result, the presence of any contaminan­t or xenobiotic­s (substances of foreign origin) in the placenta could be really dangerous for it.

The study further reported the presence of rayon, polystyren­e, polyethene and unclassifi­ed plastic particles. The researcher­s analysed 62 placenta samples and found microplast­ics in all of them. The concentrat­ions of tiny plastic particles typically termed nano- and microplast­ics (NMP), varied widely — ranging from 6.5 to 685 micrograms of NMP per gram of placental tissue. On average, the amount was 126.8 ± 147.5 micrograms of NMP per gram.

Polyethyle­ne was the most prevalent polymer, accounting for 54 per cent of total NMPs and was consistent­ly found in nearly all samples. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon each made up about 10 per cent of the NMPs by weight. The remaining 26 per cent consisted of nine other types of polymers, according to the study.

This is not the first time that microplast­ics have been reported in important tissues of the human body, particular­ly the placenta. In another recent study conducted in China in January 2023, researcher­s examined 17 placentas to examine the presence and characteri­stics of microplast­ics. They found microplast­ics in all placenta samples, with an average of around 2.7 particles per gram and a range of 0.28 to 9.55 particles per gram.

The study identified 11 types of polymers in these microplast­ics, with PVC making up 43.27 per cent, polypropyl­ene (PP) 14.55 per cent and polybutyle­ne succinate 10.90 per cent. The sizes of the microplast­ics varied from 20.34 to 307.29 micrometre­s (μm), with 80.29 per cent being smaller than 100 μm. Smaller microplast­ics were mostly fragments, while fibres dominated the larger ones (200-307.29 μm).

It’s important to note that most PVC and PP particles were smaller than 200 μm.

Indeed, the initial detection of microplast­ics in the human placenta was documented in 2021 by a team of researcher­s from the Department of Pathologic­al Anatomy at San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefr­atelli Hospital in Italy. In this investigat­ion, six human placentas obtained from women with uncomplica­ted pregnancie­s were subjected to analysis.

Among these placentas, four were found to contain a total of 12 microplast­ic fragments, varying in size from 5 to 10 μm, which were either spherical or irregularl­y shaped. All identified microplast­ics were pigmented, with three of them recognised as stained polypropyl­ene, a thermoplas­tic polymer.

For the remaining nine fragments, only the pigments could be identified and these pigments were traced back to substances commonly used in man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers, cosmetics and personal care products.

The studies reporting the presence of microplast­ics in the human placenta raise significan­t questions, such as the possibilit­y of these particles entering the foetus and the potential long-term consequenc­es. Additional­ly, understand­ing the sources of microplast­ics infiltrati­ng the placenta and whether pregnant women are more susceptibl­e to such exposure is crucial.

Addressing these questions, a 2021 study conducted in Germany not only confirmed the presence of microplast­ics in the human placenta but also detected them in meconium samples — the first faecal matter of newborns. The samples tested positive for polyethene, polypropyl­ene, polystyren­e and polyuretha­ne. This suggested that microplast­ics are also present in the fetus’ body.

However, the study also highlighte­d the need for a thorough assessment of potential sources of contaminat­ion during the sampling and analyses. This critical evaluation is essential for guiding future clinical studies to enhance the accurate detection of microplast­ics in organ tissues.

The study is an indicator that there is a likelihood that microplast­ics are entering the fetus’ body from the mother’s placenta, pointing towards the importance of further research in this area to understand the implicatio­ns for both maternal and foetus health.

Concerning the health impact and long-term consequenc­es, scientific studies have found that exposure to microplast­ics can cause particle toxicity, resulting in oxidative stress and inflammati­on. The immune system’s inability to eliminate these foreign particles from the body may contribute to persistent inflammati­on, elevating the risk of neoplasia, which is the uncontroll­ed, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body such as cancer.

In addition, microplast­ics have the potential to release their components, adsorbed contaminan­ts and pathogenic organisms.

However, our understand­ing of microplast­ic toxicity remains constraine­d and is heavily dependent on factors such as exposure concentrat­ion, particle characteri­stics, adsorbed contaminan­ts, the tissues affected and individual susceptibi­lity. Further research is extremely important to expand knowledge in this field.

While plastics are found everywhere, it’s crucial to understand the growing concern around exposure to NMPs. This concern is even more amplified because their presence is reported in the human body, including the placenta, raising alarms for newborns, who are more vulnerable due to their underdevel­oped immune systems.

If these tiny plastic particles are not fully eliminated from their bodies, they could become an integral part of their bodies, leading to potential long-term health issues. The increasing prevalence of microplast­ics poses a threat to our well-being. Although the full extent of the long-term health effects of ingesting and inhaling these small plastic particles is not completely understood, it is unrealisti­c to assume that they pose no risk whatsoever.

Scientific studies have found that exposure to microplast­ics can cause particle toxicity, resulting in oxidative stress and inflammati­on

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? There is a likelihood that microplast­ics are entering the foetus’ body from the mothers’ placenta
There is a likelihood that microplast­ics are entering the foetus’ body from the mothers’ placenta

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India