Dr Sara Kayat discusses ants that can smell cancer
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The prevalence of plastic pollution has long been an environmental emergency, but microplastics may pose a whole new set of risks. The tiny particles have long concerned biologists because of their size, which enables them to infiltrate the stomachs of fish. While the implications for humans have yet to be confirmed, some studies suggest microplastics could have a carcinogenic effect.
Micro-plastic exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion, dermal absorption due to the particles’ small size.
The particles are derived from petrochemicals extracted from oil and gas products, which can settle in dust around homes, and other environments.
But despite their omnipresence, no research has yet been able to establish the direct effects of microplastic exposure on humans.
Data available from animal studies, has, however, shown that exposure to plastic could be hazardous.
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In 2021, Science Direct reported: “Micro-plastics exposure can cause toxicity throughout oxidative stress, inflammatory lesions, and increase uptake of translocation.
“Several studies have demonstrated the potentiality of metabolic disturbances, neurotoxicity and increased cancer risk in humans.”
The particles contain a range of contaminants with the potentiality for carcinogenic effects, causing DNA damage.
These chemicals, such as trace metals, may leach from the surface of the plastic once ingested, causing the potential for harm in the body.
In new human research published in the journal Environment International, researchers found “four high production volume polymers applied in plastic in the blood” of participants.
They wrote: “An understanding of the exposure of these substances in humans and the associated hazard of such exposure is needed to determine whether or not plastic particle exposure is a public health risk.”
Dick Vethaak, professor of ecotoxicology and water quality and health at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and one of the study’s authors said: “This research found that almost eight in 10 people tested had plastic particles in their blood.
“But it doesn’t tell us what’s a safe or unsafe levels of plastic particle presence.”
Joe Royle, CEO of the group that funded the study, Common Seas, said the findings of the study are “extremely concerning”, adding: “We are already eating, drinking and breathing in plastic.
“It’s in the deepest sea trench and on top of Mount Everest. And yet, plastic production is set to double by 2040.”
The findings were obtained from an analysis of blood samples from 22 donors, with findings showing some 17 donors had a quantifiable mass of microplastics in their blood.
Samples were tested for five different types of particles, including polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), Polyethylene (PE), and polyethene terephthalate (PET).
The plastic most commonly found in blood samples was PET, found in 50 percent of blood samples.
Polystyrene – a plastic found in many household products – was spotted in 36 percent of blood samples.
Polyethene, commonly found in plastic carrier bags, was the third most prevalent plastic identified.
Professor Vethaak added: “How much is too? We urgently need to fund further research so we can find out. As our exposure to plastic particles increases, we have a right to know what it’s doing to our bodies.”
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