‘Serious Concern’ As Study Finds Microplastics In Human Placentas, Read to Know More

Microplastics found in a freshwater stream in Florida in 2017. Image by Florida Sea Grant / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The new study says that there are microplastics present inside human placentas, which could potentially affect fetal health and development. There are many ways microplastics entered the woman body and one of them will be through ingestion and inhalation, and then translocated to the placentas, according to the study. The study also suggests that more study needs to be done on this subject and it is believed that these microplastics could disrupt immunity mechanisms in babies.

Microplastics Image
Microplastics. Image by 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Plastic is one of the major problems for mankind and oceans as we are dumping all of them into the sea. There is growing body research that clearly says that that plastic is not only filling the world’s oceans and also the wilderness regions. The study also says that plastic is invading our bodies the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we consume. There are plastics in the size of tiny plastic particles smaller than 5 millimetres but bigger than 1 micron and present in the human placentas that can cause serious risk to fetal health and development.

Microplastics found in a freshwater stream in Florida in 2017. Image by Florida Sea Grant / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Published this month in Environmental International, the study examined six human placentas from women who experienced healthy pregnancies and births. During delivery, the obstetricians and midwives followed a “plastic-free protocol,” swapping plastic gloves for cotton ones, and not using any plastic equipment or supplies to avoid cross-contamination.

According to the research, there are in total 12 microplastic fragments in four of the six placentas. Three of them has been recognised as polypropylene, a plastic commonly used in food containers and packaging. But the other of them were harder to identify, they appeared to be plastic bits from “man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products,” according to the study.

As of now, the effect of ts of microplastics in the human body on health are still largely unknown, but the researchers said it was “a matter of great concern” due to the critical role the placenta plays in fetal development.“I cannot support it with scientific evidence, since ours is the first study in the world on this topic, [but] I think that if we could look for them we will also find microplastics in the organs of the newborn because the placenta is a temporary fetal organ and not a maternal organ,” Ragusa told Mongabay in an emailed statement. “Of course this is just a guess.”

Lead author Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, said it’s likely that microplastics would be present in the babies themselves, although further research would need to confirm this. While all of the babies were healthy at birth, Ragusa said that the microplastics in the placenta had the potential to “alter several cellular regulating pathways … such as immunity mechanisms.”

“The presence of MPs [microplastics] in the placenta tissue requires the reconsideration of the immunological mechanism of self-tolerance, a mechanism that may be perturbed by the presence of MPs,” Ragusa said. “In fact, it is reported that, once present in the human body, MPs may accumulate and exert localized toxicity by inducing and/or enhancing immune responses and, hence, potentially reducing the defence mechanisms against pathogens and altering the utilization of energy stores.”

Steve Allen, a microplastics researcher from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, who was not involved in the study, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings: “I’d say with complete confidence that using the right tools, we will find it in every part of the human body.” According to the researchers, there are various ways microplastics entered the mothers’ bodies through food ingestion or through respiration and then translocated into the placentas.

Polypropylene particles

There is a similar study that shows that pregnant rats forced to inhale nano plastics ended up having particles present in their placentas, as well as the fetal liver, lungs, heart, kidney and brain.“Considering it can move through rats like that, I wouldn’t be surprised if it can do exactly the same thing to humans,” said Deonie Allen, also a microplastics researcher at the University of Strathclyde. Ragusa says he and his colleagues will be doing further research on microplastics with regard to maternal and infant health.“We now have to understand if microplastics are present in the newborn at birth and we will do it by taking the umbilical cord blood at birth,” he said. “Another important step will be to understand if microplastics are present in breast milk.”

We need to work on plastic pollution because down the line it will cause serious threats to the environment, humans and other species on the planet. The authorities need to ban the single-use of plastic across the body.