by Marcela Perez
Pollution has caused adverse changes in the environment since the Industrial Revolution. Today, these human-made changes create a huge disturbance to life that directly impact our health. Mass forest destruction from high ground-level ozone formation interfere with the natural process of photosynthesis.1 Showers of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from exhaust of chemicals take the form of acid rain.2 Heavy nitrogen deposits stimulate an overabundance of algae and plants that triggers a domino effect called eutrophication that ends with ocean acidification and organism death.3 And while these massive displays of environmental destruction are still not enough to convince society to take the necessary steps for climate change control, the most potent impact pollution might have on humankind might barely be visible to the human eye. Recent studies have shown that microplastics, particles less than 5 mm in diameter4, can be found in the human body.5 These particles make their way into the body through consumption of foods contaminated by microplastics, such as commercial salt, the surfaces of fruits and vegetables, and packaged drinks with plastic particles from packaging. These tiny particles and their large-scale impacts are highlighted by scientific authors Kristy Blackburn and Dannielle Green within “The potential effects of microplastics on human health: What is known and what is unknown.”6
What we know about its impacts
The research paper points out how microplastics impose serious health risks through three mechanisms: chemical, biological, and physical.6 From a chemical standpoint, additives and dyes that leach microplastics increase the likelihood of allergies, cancer, and reproductive or developmental issues. A biological perspective demonstrates that dangerous pathogens have been found floating on microplastics, making transmission easier and increasing susceptibility to infection. Inhalation and ingestion of microplastics reflects the physical mechanism – which could result in respiratory disease, lipid accumulation, and inflammation. Inhalation is another form of consumption; with the production of plastic textiles on the rise, microplastic contamination in the atmosphere is inevitable. Plastic-based synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, release airborne plastic fibers that make their way into our lungs. However microplastics might get in, knowledge around the impacts of microplastics to the human body is of more substantial interest.
Though these current implications appear exceptionally harmful, it is still difficult to quantify how much microplastic is actually ingested and inhaled before it accumulates in the human body. While there is still much more to discover about the various impacts these particles have on the human body, what is known for certain is that microplastic pollution is a serious problem and results from our neglect of the environment’s wellbeing. Governor Jay Inslee once said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”7 To see change we must take action now, even if that action is as minor as changing your recycling habits. Microplastics and their impacts to human health and the environment should serve as a wake up call about how detrimental our actions can be to ourselves and the world around us.
- Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Ecosystem Effects of Ozone Pollution. EPA. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution/ecosystem-effects-ozone-pollution
- Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, June 24). What is Acid Rain? EPA. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what-acid-rain#:~:text=Acid%20rain%20results%20when%20sulfur,before%20falling%20to%20the%20ground
- Ocean acidification. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2020, April 1). Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/ocean-coasts/ocean-acidification#:~:text=Because%20of%20human%2Ddriven%20increased,the%20ocean%20becomes%20more%20acidic
- US Department of Commerce, N. O. and A. A. (2016, April 13). What are microplastics? NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
- Carrington, D. (2022, March 24). Microplastics found in human blood for first time. The Guardian. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/24/microplastics-found-in-human-blood-for-first-time#:~:text=Microplastic%20pollution%20has%20been%20detected,and%20may%20lodge%20in%20organs
- Blackburn, K., & Green, D. (2021). The potential effects of microplastics on human health: What is known and what is unknown. Ambio, 51(3), 518–530. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01589-9
- Woodruff, J. (2019, March 20). Gov. Jay Inslee on climate change, tax policy and reparations. PBS. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/gov-jay-inslee-on-climate-change-tax-policy-and-reparations
- pcess609. (n.d.). Close up side shot of microplastics lay on people hand.Concept of water pollution and global warming. Climate change idea. Getty Images (Ser. 1317882487). photograph, Thailand; Getty Images. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/close-up-side-shot-of-microplastics-lay-on-people-royalty-free-image/1317882487?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=iptcurl.