For the first time, scientists from the University of Hull and Hull York Medical School have discovered the presence of microplastic particles in the lungs of living patients, further proof that we are breathing them in every day from the air.
The experts analyzed particles down to 0.003mm in size and used spectroscopy to identify the type of plastic, while using control samples to take into account the level of background contamination. They found microplastics, those tiny pieces of plastic less than 5mm in diameter, in the deepest section of the lung. Of the 13 lung samples from living patients undergoing surgical procedures as part of their routine care, a staggering 11 patients had microplastics in their lungs (up to 39 microplastics) , with the most common types being PET pieces, used to make beverage bottles; polypropylene, used for plastic containers and pipes; and resin, often used as an adhesive or sealant.
This finding is very striking since it was previously thought that finding microplastics in the lungs was something unfeasible, practically impossible, especially due to the narrowness of the airways. We were wrong.
Our world is covered by a thin layer of plastic
Microplastics sneak everywhere. They are present in all environments, from marine and freshwater bodies to soil, food, drinking water, and the air. They form when plastics break down and during the manufacture of commercial products, and have become a major environmental problem.
Microplastics have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women and, a few days ago, microplastics from four common plastics were detected in blood samples from healthy adults.
“Microplastics have been found before in autopsy samples from human cadavers,” lead author Laura Sadofsky, senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at Hull York Medical School, said in a statement. “This is the first robust study to show microplastics in the lungs of living people.”
The study showed that 11 microplastics were found in the upper part of the lung, seven in the middle part and 21 in the lower part of the lung, which was an unexpected finding.
Did men or women have more microplastics?
Surprisingly, the male patients in the study carried considerably higher levels of microplastics than the females.
Referencia: Lauren C. Jenner, Jeanette M. Rotchell, Robert T. Bennett, Michael Cowen, Vasileios Tentzeris, Laura R. Sadofsky, Detection of microplastics in human lung tissue using μFTIR spectroscopy, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 831, 2022, 154907, ISSN 0048-9697, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154907.