After finding microplastics in our seafood, salt and drinking water, scientists have now confirmed there is plastic in our poop too
People are eating plastic particles, and excreting at least some of them, a new study finds.
“The inevitable has happened,” National Geographic reports. “Microplastics have already been found in birds and fish and whales, so it should have come as no surprise that they have now been discovered in humans.”
Researchers at the University of Vienna have found dozens of tiny pieces of plastic in the stool samples of eight people from eight different countries.
The results of the preliminary study were presented at a gastroenterology conference in Vienna last week.
Participants, from across Europe, Russia and Japan, kept a food diary for a week and then provided stool samples at the end.
The researchers found around 20 particles of plastic per 10 grams of poop. They identified nine of the 10 types of plastic they were looking for.
The most common type was polypropylene (used in bottle caps, food packaging and synthetic clothing) followed by polyethylene terephthalate or “PET” (used in plastic bottles). The other seven types included plastics used to make utensils, shopping bags, nylon, automotive parts and electronics.
The diaries provided clues about potential sources of the plastics. Six of the participants ate seafood that week. All eight consumed food wrapped in plastic. And all eight drank water from plastic water bottles.
“Based on the research, it was highly likely that microplastics would be present in humans,” said Philipp Schwabl, a gastroenterologist at the University of Vienna who led the study.
“But nobody ever investigated if microplastics also reach the human gut. Now this discussion can be taken up in humans.”
“For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates,” Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, told National Geographic.
An average of 8 million tons of plastic, most of it single-use, flows into the world’s oceans each year.
“Fibers from synthetic clothes such as polyester and acrylic make their way into freshwater systems via washing machines,” Laura Parker writes for National Geographic.
“You can see this in action with a fleece jacket; just scratching the arm of the jacket can shed invisible fibers. As a result, tiny plastic fragments and fibers have now spread all over the planet. They’re in deep sea trenches and in the air we breathe.”
A study earlier this year determined that humans are at a greater risk of ingesting airborne plastic fibers from our clothing, carpets and curtains than from eating mussels, which are now known to be highly contaminated with microplastics.
In follow-up studies the researchers hope to look for even particles of plastic, capable of penetrating the gut lining and entering the circulatory system and other organs.
While the health effects of ingesting microplastics in humans is still unknown, we know plastic ingestion in marine life can prove fatal. Microplastics have been found in more than 114 aquatic species, and studies have shown the potential damage to reproductive systems and the liver.