Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 7, 2019
Study sheds light on human consumption of microplastics
A study from the University of Victoria has for the first time compiled research on microplastics to try to estimate just how much people are consuming.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are just under five millimetres in diameter — or smaller than the size of a sesame seed — that come from the degradation of larger plastic products or the shedding of particles from water bottles, plastic packaging and synthetic clothes.
Garth Covernton, a PhD candidate at University of Victoria’s department of biology, said his team looked at 26 papers assessing the amount of microplastics found in individual food items.
The study found that a person’s average microplastic consumption — based on those food items previously analyzed — would likely be somewhere between 70,000 and 121,000 particles per year. While younger girls were at the lower end of the spectrum, adult men were at the high end.
People who consume a lot of bottled water could see that number jump by up to 100,000 particles per year.
The study analyzed the amount of microplastics found in fish, shellfish, sugars, salts, alcohol, water and air, which account for 15 per cent of Americans’ caloric intake.
But the other 85 per cent of what people consume, like beef, poultry, dairy and grains, has still not been examined.
Covernton compared the study to early understandings of cigarettes and tobacco: While the numbers they came up with did seem large, they don’t yet know exactly what level of consumption is dangerous.
“We’re at the point where we know microplastics at some dose could be harmful, but we’re not at the point where we can say whether what the average person is encountering is the equivalent of one cigarette in a lifetime, or that chronic exposure, like a pack a day.”
Covernton said the findings demonstrate more work needs to be done to understand how the tiny particles might affect human health. (CBC)