Humans Ingest at Least 50,000 Plastic Particles a Year

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Food is contaminated with plastic, which means it's going directly into our bodies.

If you have resisted giving up bottled water for any reason, this should change your mind. A new study estimates that people who drink bottled water ingest 90,000 additional plastic microplastic particles annually, compared to those who drink tap water, which puts only an extra 4,000 particles into their bodies.

This finding is part of a study that has estimated the number of plastic particles that humans ingest every year. Conducted by researchers at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, it pulled together data from 26 previous studies that had measured plastic in salt, beer, sugar, fish, shellfish, water, and urban air. Pairing this data with the U.S. dietary guidelines, the scientists calculated how many particles people were likely to consume annually.

Their discovery? 50,000 for adults, 40,000 for children. When inhalation is factored in, the estimate jumps to between 74,000 and 121,000 for adults.

plastic microparticles

© Monique Raap, University of Victoria – Researchers estimate the amount of microplastics consumed by Americans each year.

These amounts, as shockingly high as they seem, are probably underestimated. The foods in the studies comprise only 15 percent of a typical American's caloric intake, which suggests the real number is higher. Study author Kieran Cox said,

"Other foods, such as bread, processed products, meat, dairy and vegetables, may well contain just as much plastic... It is really highly likely there is going to be large amounts of plastic particles in these. You could be heading into the hundreds of thousands."

What these plastic particles do to the human body is not yet understood. A study published last fall revealed plastic in feces, which shows that some of it does get expelled from the body, but there is also evidence that it can get absorbed. The tiniest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream and lymphatic system, could affect immune response, and aid transmission of toxic chemicals. In birds, plastic has been found to "remodel the tiny fingerlike projections inside the small intestine, disrupt iron absorption and add to stress on the liver."

So, knowing how much is entering human bodies should be a serious concern to all. Cox says the findings have certainly impacted his own willingness to buy plastic food packaging, as well as bottled water, and he says the connection between consumer practices and health is clear. It's time to say no plastic whenever and wherever possible.