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Americans May Be Ingesting Thousands of Microplastics Every Year

Smithsonian – A new study found that we consume between 74,000 and 121,000 plastic particles annually—and that’s likely an underestimate – “Microplastics are everywhere in our environment: oceans, soils, the air, the bodies of animals. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the tiny fragments have also been found in humans. But a new study is shining troubling light on the quantity of microplastics Americans are consuming each year—as many as 121,000 particles, per a conservative estimate. Measuring less than five millimeters in length, microplastics derive from a variety of sources, including large plastics that break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Many studies have looked at microplastics in the marine environment, but much remains unknown about the prevalence of these materials within the human body, as well as their impact on human health. Hoping to fill in some of these gaps, a research team led by Kieran Cox, a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria and a former Link Fellow at the Smithsonian Institute, looked at 26 papers assessing the amount of microplastics in commonly consumed food items, among them seafood, sugars, salts, honey, alcohol and water. The team also evaluated the potential consumption of microplastics through inhalation using previously reported data on microplastic concentrations in the air and the Environmental Protection Agency’s reported respiration rates. To account for factors like age and sex, the researchers consulted dietary intakes recommended by the U.S. Health Department.

Based on this data, the researchers calculated that our annual consumption of microplastics via food and drink ranges between 39,000 and 52,000 particles, depending on age and sex. Female children consume the least and male adults consume the most, the team reveals in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. When microplastics ingested through inhalation are taken into account, the range jumps from 74,000 to 121,000 particles per year…Collectively, the food and drink that the researchers analyzed represent 15 percent of Americans’ caloric intake. The team could not account for food groups like fruits, vegetables, meat and grains because there simply is not enough data on their microplastic content…”


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