People may be breathing in microparticles, health expert warns

People could be breathing in microparticles of plastic, according to a leading environmental health expert, with as yet unknown consequences on health.

Microplastics are known to be damaging to life in the oceans, with marine creatures mistaking them for food, and to be consumed by people eating seafood. But Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London, told MPs investigating the issue that the microparticles could be being inhaled too.

“There is a possibility, a real possibility, that some of those microparticles will be entrained into the air, and they will be carried around and we will end up breathing them,” Kelly told an evidence session of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), adding that his group had just started new research into the issue. “This is a horizon-scanning issue but the particles are of a size that they are [breathable], they are increasing in number in our environment and there is a question to be asked.”

Kelly said the microplastics could enter the air after sewage sludge is spread on fields and dries out. He said a French study had detected the particles in the air.

“If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation, in the same way as we worry about all the other vehicle-related emissions,” he said. The health effect of microplastics, either eaten or breathed in, was just beginning to be looked at, Kelly said.

Evidence submitted to the EAC by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Even for high level consumers of seafoods that are most likely to be relatively highly contaminated with marine microplastics, dietary exposure to microplastic particles is likely to be relatively low compared with inhalation of microplastics.”

Over 10m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year and is worn down into trillions of pieces of plastic. Public attention in recent months has focused on one kind of microplastic, called microbeads and used as exfoliants in toiletries such as face washes and toothpastes.

Microbeads make up a small part of the total plastic waste in the seas but campaigners argue they can easily be dealt with by bans, such as the one passed by the US in December, and more than 290,000 people have signed a petition calling for a UK ban. . . .

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian

May 9, 2016


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *