Published: Thu, October 25, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Plastic Found In Faeces of Every Participant in Europe-Wide Study

Plastic Found In Faeces of Every Participant in Europe-Wide Study

This comes as a study found evidence of microscopic plastic particles in human waste from around the world.

Researchers at the Vienna University of Medicine and the Austrian Environment Agency, headed by Dr. Philip Svalbell, made the announcement at the worldwide gastroenterology conference of the United European Gastroenterology (UEG Week) organized in the Austrian capital. The most common type was polypropylene, the plastic found in bottle caps, followed by polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic found in the bottles themselves.

On average, researchers found 20 microplastic particles-ranging in size from 50 to 500 micrometers-per 10 grams of feces. The diaries showed all the participants had eaten food wrapped in plastic or drunk from plastic bottles.

The scourge of plastic pollution has spread to the human gut, with researchers finding small "microplastic" particles in the digestive systems of people across the globe.

"Of particular concern is what this means to [medical professionals] and patients with gastrointestinal diseases", Schwabl said in an announcement of the new study.

"While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and may even reach the liver".

There isn't any evidence so far of whether ingesting microplastics is unsafe to humans, let alone the specific effects, but the researchers believe that gastrointestinal plastic might have a clinical impact.

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Microplastics have forever been lodged in our lexicon thanks to David Attenborough and other environmental campaigners highlighting the huge damage caused by the irresponsible dumping of plastic waste in our oceans. Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue and even in beer. In addition, many US cities are moving to ban plastic straws and single-use items such as cotton swabs and drink stirrers, which can break down into microplastics.

Sadly, an estimated 2 to 5 percent of that ends up in the sea, where it is crushed and absorbed by marine animals, eventually making its way up the food chain to humans.

"In our laboratory, we were able to detect nine different types of plastics", said Bettina Liebmann, a researcher at the Federal Environment Agency, which analysed the samples. None of the participants was a vegetarian and six of them ate sea fish.

Schwabl notes that the risks aren't limited to the GI tract.

For their many practical characteristics they are pervasive in everyday life and humans are exposed to them in numerous ways. Experts say it's not surprising that microplastics would be found in human samples too. "Personally, I didn't expect that each example would be tested positive".

Microplastics include fragments smaller than five millimeters (the diameter of a grain of rice) that result from the breakdown of larger debris, such as bottles, in the environment. Significant amounts of microplastic have already been detected in tuna, lobster and shrimp. 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.

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