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Babies are exposed to microplastics before they're even born

New research shows that microplastics can be found in human placentas and in newborns. This is especially important as plastics may have serious health consequences for people at any age. 

“It’s quite possible that children are more exposed to microplastics than adults, similar to children’s greater exposure to many other environmental toxic chemicals,” explained Kam Sripada, a neuroscientist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Rather than degrading and decomposing, plastics just break down into smaller and smaller microplastics, which break down into even tinier nanoplastics. Plastic is ubiquitous in our world, from things we use daily to things quickly dominating our landfills, clogging our rivers and creating islands in our oceans. 

Sripada is first author on a review paper in Environmental Health and Perspectives that summarizes what is known about micro and nano plastics and their connection to pregnancy and child health. 

“No one knows exactly how much microplastic a child ingests. But several studies now suggest that today’s children absorb microplastics in their bodies as early as at foetal age. This is concerning,” said Sripada.

Research is especially lacking on children’s exposure and health problems caused by micro- and nanoplastics. 

“Although a lot of research is being done on microplastics, studies on the health effects of these plastic particles are limited. This applies especially to the effects on children,” said Martin Wagner, an associate professor of biology at NTNU.

What is now understood is that, even before birth, children are exposed to these plastics throughout childhood and into adulthood. This is also true of toxic chemicals.

“Children do not have a fully developed immune system and are in a very important phase of their brain development. This makes them particularly vulnerable,” said Sripada. 

While the researchers noted that it is almost impossible to prevent children from ingesting plastic, there are ways that parents can reduce the amount of plastic that their children are exposed to. 

For example, parents should make sure that their child’s food comes into as little contact with plastic as possible. The experts also advise to clean the house properly and regularly with soap and water because dust may contain microplastics.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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