Even if you are not aware of it, you consume tiny pieces of plastic waste, so-called microplastics, every day.
As plastic in industrial waste and consumer products breaks down, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, some of which are invisible to the naked eye and microscopic enough to be inhaled.
With a minimum size of 5 millimeters, they pollute the ocean and atmosphere and can be found in water bottles and even bottles human feces. They also tend to contain toxic, environmentally harmful chemicals.
In 2019, scientists estimated that we breathe in 16 microplastic particles, the size of a credit card, every hour.
Researchers have now investigated how the plastic residue can affect the respiratory tract and where it settles in the body.
“Millions of tons of these microplastic particles have been found in water, air and soil. Global production of microplastics is skyrocketing and the density of microplastics in the air is increasing significantly,” said the study’s lead author Mohammad S. Islam, senior research fellow at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
“For the first time, studies found microplastics deep in human airways in 2022, raising concerns about serious respiratory health risks,” he continued.
Published in the magazine Physics of LiquidsThe study used a computer model to analyze where the tiny chunks travel in our airways and where they deposit in our bodies.
The researchers observed how they fared when they breathed slowly and quickly, and how their body shape affected where they moved.
They found that the largest chunks of microplastics — those about 5.56 microns in size (one-seventieth the width of a human hair) — are the most likely to get caught.
The places where these larger pieces landed were typically in the upper respiratory tract, such as the nasal cavity and the back of the throat.
The authors said their study highlighted that exposure to and inhalation of microplastics could be a “real problem,” particularly in areas of high plastic pollution or industrial activity.
Her next steps will be to study how the plastics are deposited in the human lungs, taking into account factors such as humidity and temperature.
Research published last year showed that these particles can wreak havoc on your gut over time, changing the composition of its microbiome, causing inflammation and triggering biochemical processes involved in the development of cancer.