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Microplastics discovered in every human placenta tested after birth

Scientists have revealed the presence of microplastics in human placenta tissue, a discovery that raises significant concerns about the potential health implications for both present and future generations.

Microplastics, those minuscule fragments of plastic less than five millimeters in size, are now ubiquitous in our environment — and alarmingly, in almost every part of the human body tested so far.

In a disturbing study conducted by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences, Matthew Campen, PhD, a Regents’ Professor at the UNM Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, meticulously analyzed placenta samples from 62 individuals.

Astonishingly, every placenta sample contained microplastics, with concentrations varying widely from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue.

“Although these numbers might appear insignificant at first glance, the health effects of a steadily increasing volume of microplastics in our environment are potentially profound,” Campen expressed.

Invisible invaders: Microplastics in human placentas

This investigation utilized an innovative analytical approach, combining saponification and ultracentrifugation with pyrolysis, to quantify microplastics in human tissues accurately.

The most prevalent polymer found was polyethylene, constituting 54% of the total plastics detected. Other significant polymers included polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon, each accounting for about 10% of the total, alongside a mixture of nine other polymers.

Marcus Garcia, PharmD, a postdoctoral fellow in Campen’s laboratory, highlighted the advancement this method represents, enabling researchers to move beyond mere particle counting to precise quantification of microplastic content in human placenta tissues.

This leap forward is critical in understanding the full scope of microplastic pollution and its implications for human health.

The proliferation of plastic use since the 1950s has led to an environmental crisis, with a staggering amount of plastic waste — much of which breaks down into microplastics — permeating our ecosystems.

“That ends up in groundwater, and sometimes it aerosolizes and ends up in our environment,” Garcia said. “We’re not only getting it from ingestion but also through inhalation as well. It not only affects us as humans, but all off our animals — chickens, livestock — and all of our plants. We’re seeing it in everything.”

The durability of plastics, with some types having a half-life of up to 300 years, means that microplastics accumulating in the environment and our bodies are remnants from decades past.

Microplastics, placenta tissue, and modern maladies

Despite their historical assumption as biologically inert, recent evidence suggests that microplastics, especially those small enough to cross cellular membranes, may pose significant health risks.

Campen pointed out the correlation between increasing microplastic concentrations in human tissues and a rise in health issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer in younger populations, and declining sperm counts.

The study’s findings, particularly the detection of microplastics in placental tissue — a structure that forms and grows within a mere eight months — underscore the urgency of addressing plastic pollution.

Campen and his team are planning further research to explore the health impacts of microplastics, but the need for immediate action is clear.

As the production of plastics continues to escalate, with projections suggesting a potential doubling every 10 to 15 years, the situation appears increasingly dire.

“It’s only getting worse, and the trajectory is it will double every 10 to 15 years,” he said. “So, even if we were to stop it today, in 2050 there will be three times as much plastic in the background as there is now. And we’re not going to stop it today.”

Global challenge: Mobilizing against microplastics

In summary, the pervasive presence of microplastics in human placenta tissue serves as a stark wake-up call to the global community about the extent of plastic pollution and its potential implications for human health.

This important research shines a bright spotlight on the invisible threat that microplastics pose to our bodies and emphasizes the urgent need for collective action to mitigate plastic waste and explore sustainable alternatives.

By confronting the realities of our reliance on plastics and pushing for innovative solutions, we can safeguard the health of current and future generations against the insidious spread of microplastics in our environment.

The full study was published in the journal Toxicological Sciences.


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