Researchers Have Found Microplastics in Human Waste for the First Time

Friday, 26 Oct, 2018

Microplastics originate from larger pieces of plastic being separated and from microbeads-tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic that are extensively used in cosmetics.

In the study, the researchers analyzed stool samples from eight healthy volunteers living in eight countries around the world: Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria.

Lead researcher Dr Phillip Schwabi from the university said: "Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases".

Participants from Britain, Austria, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland and Russian Federation took part in the research project. Other forms of plastics noted were polypropylene - commonly found in bottle caps and polyvinyl chloride or PVC found in plastic pipes.

Risky microplastics - usually found in the soil, oceans, tap and bottled water - have now soiled our poop too. We need to do more research to understand what this means for human health.

"We need urgent action from governments to massively reduce plastic use and ensure any we do use, which must be essential, is captured and properly recycled". That highlights how hard it is to avoid plastic contamination, making it hard to say for sure that all the plastic they found in the poop was there because of what the people were eating, rather than some of it landing there while the subjects were packaging up their poop to mail it off.

It is estimated up to 5% of plastics produced end up in the sea.

Participants were asked to keep a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sample, with all of them documenting that they had eaten food wrapped in plastic or drank from plastic bottles.

Schwabl presented the findings at a United European Gastroenterology Week conference in Vienna this week.

All participants consumed plastic-packed food or beverages from polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) bottles; the majority ate fish or seafood, and none followed an exclusively vegetarian diet.

Monday's study may be the first to show the presence of plastics in the human gut, and it comes a few months after the World Health Organization announced it would investigate the potential effects of plastic on human health. Six of them had eaten fish.

Although there are initial indications that digestive organs can be damaged by plastic chemicals or by inflammation that is caused by particles, further studies are needed to assess the risk for humans, the scientists said. Swabi has said that now that they have the ability to detect microplastics in stool a much larger study can be performed.

The experts from the Federal Environment Agency analysed the participants' stool in the laboratory with regard to ten of the most widely used plastics in the world. In addition, humans likely consume plastic that enters products from food processing systems. Which, if one thinks about it, only makes sense since we're eating and drinking them.

"In the worst case, all the plastic they found is from the lab", Wagner told The Associated Press. According to Dr. Herbert Tilg, president of the Austrian Society of Gastroenterology and chair of the UEG Scientific Committee, microplastics could possibly be one of the factors contributing to inflammatory bowel syndrome or even colon cancer, which is on the rise among young adults.

"The fact that so many different polymers were measured suggests a wide range of contamination sources", said Stephanie Wright, an environmental health scientist at Kings College London who was not involved in the study.