Microplastics have been identified as a major ecological problem years ago. According to one estimate, eight billion metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. Unless washed ashore, these break down into very tiny bits. The smallest among these, with lengths less than 0.2 inches are known as microplastics. Some of these join the join the huge plastic debris in the oceans. There is one such in the Pacific as huge as Alaska. Some just move down to the depths. Some of them get into the bodies of fish and shellfish, which in turn are consumed by humans. Thus, scientists have assumed more than a decade before, that the human entrails contain their share of microplastics.
However, no scientific study of the possibility has been made till now. A research paper presented at the United European Gastroenterology Conference in Vienna on Monday came up with conclusive proof regarding the presence of microplastics in the human digestive tract. They get inside the body not only through seafood, but from varied sources of contamination. The paper presented the findings of a pilot study led by Dr Philipp Schwabl, a gastroenterologist from the Medical University of Vienna. The team started their research by finding eight volunteers from eight countries, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Japan.
Each volunteer was asked to maintain a food log for a week before they sent their stool samples to the Environment Agency, Vienna for analysis. Results of the analysis surprised the team, as each of the eight samples tested positive for microplastics. These included the types of plastics used in plastic bags (polyethylene), bottle caps (polypropylene), and PVC materials (polyvinyl chloride). However, it is not clear at the moment where the plastic particles came from. The possible sources could include plastic wrappers and plastic bottles, and seafood. But it is not easy to decide because microplastics are everywhere. They are found even in table salt and beer. This calls for a more detailed study, using equipment that can detect even the smallest particles.
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