As part of a pilot study directed by Bettina Liebmann of the Environment Agency Austria and Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna, scientists have discovered microplastics in human stool for the first time. The scientists presented their findings at the end of October at the International UEG Gastroenterology Congress in Vienna.
The researchers examined a total of 8 subjects between 33 and 65 years of age. The subjects came from various continents and countries. All of them maintained a nutrition diary and submitted a stool sample. The result of the study? The scientists found microplastics in the stool of all 8 persons, an average of 20 microplastic particles per 10 grams of stool. “In our laboratory, we were able to detect nine different types of plastics ranging in size from 50 to 500 micrometers,” explains Bettina Liebmann. PP (polypropylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) were the plastics found most frequently. Exactly how nutrition and the presence of microplastics are related cannot be determined from the small group of subjects. That work should occur as part of a larger study, which should also be able to determine the risks to human health more exactly.
“Although there are initial indications that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances, further
studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplastics for humans,” says Philipp Schwabl.
About 330,000 tons of microplastics are released every year in Germany. That’s the finding of a study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) (German only) and sponsored by chemical companies, cosmetics manufacturers, water authorities, waste management firms, and universities. The study showed that most microplastic comes from tire wear, emissions from waste treatment, and the abrasion of polymers and bitumen in asphalt.
But microplastics are also created by the weathering and decay of larger plastic elements. However, knowledge about the origin and spread of these secondary microplastics is quite fragmentary. A series of projected research projects based on the initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) should shed some light here.
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