We consume over 74,000 microplastic particles a year from our food

The average American could be consuming over 74,000 microplastic particles per year, the health effects of which are not yet known.

The new analysis made the estimates from published data on amounts of microplastics found in food, air and water and the average Americans’ caloric intake.

Since the mass production of plastics began in the 1940s, the versatile polymers have spread rapidly across the globe. 

The researchers estimate that the average American consumes 74,000- 121,000 particles of microplastics per year, and that this is likely an underestimation. 

Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that can arise from the degradation of larger plastic products in the environment.

They can also come from the shedding of particles from food and water containers during packaging. 

Humans can inadvertently take in these materials, some pieces of which are small enough to enter human tissues, when eating food or breathing air.

The researchers reviewed 26 previous studies that analysed the amounts of microplastic particles in fish, shellfish, added sugars, salts, alcohol, tap or bottled water, and air.

Other foods were not included in the analysis because of lack of data.

The team then assessed approximately how much of these foods men, women and children eat from the recommended dietary intakes of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

They estimated microplastic consumption ranged from 74,000 to 121,000 particles per year, depending on age and sex. 

People who drink only bottled water could consume an additional 90,000 microplastics annually compared with those who drink only tap water. 

Because the researchers considered only 15 per cent of Americans’ caloric intake, these values are likely underestimates, they said. 

Additional research is needed to understand the health effects, if any, of the ingested particles but the team said that they could trigger immune reactions or release toxic substances. 

Dr Stephanie Wright, Research Associate, King’s College London (KCL), said:

‘There has been an awareness of microplastic contamination of dietary products and air for several years. This study reiterates what is already known of microplastic exposure, synthesising the existing evidence.’

But not everyone agrees that the figure the researchers estimated is that high. 

Professor Alastair Grant, Professor of Ecology, University of East Anglia (UEA), said: ‘The authors calculate consumption of microplastics from measured concentrations in food and air. They calculate that an adult male consumes 142 plastic particles per day by mouth and inhales another 170. 

‘The rather large numbers that are given most prominence are annual estimates. No evidence is presented that these rates of consumption are a significant danger to human health.

Professor Grant also said that the figure for inhalation is calculated by multiplying particle concentrations in air by daily respiration rates but does not take into account the systems that our bodies have to remove particles from the air that we breathe.

‘One of the two sources for particle concentrations in air says that the observed fibers are too large to be inhaled so, the numbers of particles that actually reach our lungs will be much smaller than the numbers quoted.’ 

The research was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Categories:   Mailonline Science