Consumption of Microplastics in the U.S.

Ellie Teng ‘21

environmental
Figure 1. Larger pieces of plastics can degrade and turn into microplastics.

 

Microplastics, formed from the degradation of larger plastics, are found in nearly all aspects of our lives. Microplastics are classified as being 5mm or less in size according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.While plastics can be widely used, they are not always properly and safely disposed of, and it is estimated that Americans inadvertently consume over 70,000 particles per year.

Researchers studied the consumption of microplastics by comparing the number of microplastic particles in common foods in the American diet as well as the recommended daily intake of these foods. In 26 previous experiments, scientists analyzed the number of microplastic particles in seafood, sugars, salts, alcohol, tap or bottled water, and air. They then considered the approximate amount of these foods men, women and children consume from the recommended dietary intakes. It was estimated that microplastics consumption ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles per year depending on age and sex. These values increase to 74,000 and 121,000 when inhalation is taken into account. Individuals who only drink bottled water could consume an additional 90,000 microplastics in relation to those who only drink tap water.

Since the researchers considered only 15% of Americans’ caloric intakes, they surmise that microplastic consumption values are likely underestimates, and that real values could be much higher. The health effects related to intake of these microplastic particles are unknown, but some pieces may be small enough to enter human tissues and trigger immune reactions or may be somewhat toxic. Further research w conducted regarding the health effects of microplastic consumption.

  1. K. Cox, et al., Human consumption of microplastics. Environmental Science & Technology, (2019). doi: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01517.   
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/search/micro%20plastics/

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