Microplastics are found everywhere, from the oceans to rivers to the air we breathe. Although the harmful effects of microplastics on marine life and ecosystems are well-documented, the effects of microplastics on humans are less well-known, and that’s what we will discuss in this piece of writing.
Microplastics are plastic fragments smaller than 5 millimeters in size. They can come from a variety of sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic items such as water bottles or shopping bags, as well as products containing microplastics such as facial scrubs and toothpaste. Synthetic clothing, such as fleece jackets and yoga pants, can also contribute to microplastic pollution when washed.
One of the challenges with microplastics is that they are difficult to remove from the environment once they have been released. They can remain in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years because they do not decompose. Additionally, their small size means they can be difficult to detect and quantify in the environment.
To address the issue of microplastics, it’s important to reduce our use of plastic products and find alternative materials that are more sustainable. Additionally, improved waste management and recycling practices can help prevent plastic waste from entering the environment in the first place. There is also ongoing research to understand better the effects of microplastics on humans and the environment and develop strategies to get rid of them.
Effects of Microplastics on the Environment
Microplastics can have a number of harmful effects on the environment.
1. Ingestion by Marine Life
Microplastics can be mistaken for food by marine animals, such as fish, birds, and turtles. When ingested, they can block the digestive tract, causing injury, starvation, and death.
2. Disruption of Food Chains
Microplastics can get into the food chain if marine animals eat them, and then bigger predators eat those animals. This can lead to the accumulation of microplastics and associated toxins in the bodies of larger animals, which can have negative impacts on their health.
3. Habitat Destruction
Physical and chemical characteristics of marine and freshwater ecosystems may be altered as microplastics accumulate in the environment. This can lead to changes in water quality, nutrient cycling, and other ecological processes.
Effects of Microplastics on Humans
1. Ingestion through Food and Water
Microplastics can enter the human body through the food we eat and the water we drink. It is found in seafood, drinking water, and even bottled water. Microplastics health effects include disrupting hormone production and causing inflammation and tissue damage, among other effects.
One of the negative effects of microplastics on humans is that they contain additives and chemicals. These chemicals can reach the environment, potentially contaminating food and water sources.
Microplastics can also be found in the air we breathe. They can be released into the air during the manufacturing, usage, and disposal of plastic products. One of the microplastics’ health effects is that they can potentially cause damage to the respiratory system if inhaled.
5. Skin Absorption
Microplastics can also be absorbed through the skin. This can happen when using personal care products that contain microbeads or when coming into contact with plastic-based materials, such as synthetic fabrics.
6. Immune system
One of the effects of microplastics on humans is that they can affect the immune system of humans by triggering an inflammatory response, which can lead to chronic inflammation and immune dysfunction. Additionally, the ingestion of microplastics may also alter the gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in regulating immune function.
7. Endocrine disruption
Microplastics could mess with a person’s endocrine system if they release chemicals that act like hormones or bind to hormone receptors. This could cause hormonal imbalances and health problems like infertility, developmental disorders, and cancer. One of the health effects of microplastics on the endocrine system includes the thyroid gland.
One of the effects of microplastics on humans is that they may play a role in the development of cancer by inducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage, which can increase the risk of genetic mutations and cellular abnormalities that may lead to cancer. Some microplastics may also have chemicals in them that are known to cause cancer, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and phthalates.
9. Reproductive System
Microplastics can affect a person’s reproductive system by messing up their hormone levels, which can lead to infertility, fetal development problems, and other complications with their reproductive health. Also, microplastics can affect reproductive organs and tissues, like the ovaries and testes, which could cause damage or cellular problems. Some microplastics, like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, may also contain chemicals that are known to be endocrine disruptors and reproductive toxins.
10. Brain Function
Microplastics found in our bodies may lead to neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and neuronal damage. Additionally, some microplastics may contain chemicals that are known as neurotoxins, such as lead and mercury, which can further increase the risk of cognitive and neurological problems. Moreover, microplastics may also affect the gut-brain axis, which plays a crucial role in regulating brain function and mental health.
11. Antibiotics Resistance
One of the microplastics’ health effects is that they may potentially contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance in humans by acting as a reservoir and a vector for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is because microplastics can gather bacteria and their genes, including those that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and concentrate them. So, the presence of microplastics in food and water sources may spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria and cause people to get infections that are hard to treat and could be life-threatening.
The presence of microplastics in our environment is a growing concern for human health. From ingestion to inhalation to skin absorption, the effects of microplastics on humans are numerous. As you read about microplastics’ health effects, it is important to take steps to reduce our use of plastic products and find alternative materials that are more sustainable and less harmful to the environment.