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Microplastics could harm unborn babies new research finds

21 Oct Microplastics could harm unborn babies new research finds

MICROPLASTICS could harm fetal health, according to new research presented by scientists today.

The findings were presented by scientists at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam.

Research conducted at Utrecht University found that even very large plastic particles can be absorbed by placenta cells.

This includes 10 micrometre polystyrene particles which can be absorbed.

The research also found that plastic particles can become a vector for other chemicals they encounter in the environment.

This in turn could expose the fetus to a raft of potentially dangerous pollutants.

These pollutants include Polychlorinated Biphenyls – a group of manmade chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer in animals.

Lead researcher Hanna Dusza said more research is urgently required to establish the extent to which microplastics in the fetal environment can affect health.

This is especially serious given that fetal exposure to other man-made particles in air pollution has been associated with complications in pregnancy such as pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia.

Particulates in air pollution are thought to be chemically very similar to microplastics.

The Summit heard new research presented by Professor Patricia Hunt from Washington State University in the United States too.

Professor Hunt presented new findings revealing endocrine disrupting chemicals in microplastics have the potential to harm the fetuses of pregnant mice.

Researcher Hanna Dusza said: “The placenta is a complex temporary organ that plays an essential role during pregnancy. It is a lifeline for the developing baby, regulating the exchange of nutrients, gases and waste products between the mother and the fetus. The placenta is also an important endocrine organ, producing hormones crucial for the maintenance of pregnancy.

“Ultrafine particles in air pollution can reach the placenta, increasing the risk of pregnancy complications such as pre- eclampsia, pre-term birth or low birth weight. Recent studies have shown that microplastics are also detected in the placenta, though their effects are unclear. Our research shows that plastic particles of different sizes are efficiently taken up by placenta cells, where they may exert subtle effects on endocrine function.

Professor Patricia Hunt said: “Chemicals used in plastics not only have the potential to harm our fertility, but
also to affect future generations.

“Linking maternal and fetal exposure to birth outcomes, development, and adult disease would convince even persistent doubters of the harmful effects of plasticizing chemicals.

“But we don’t have the luxury of time. We must put faith in experimental evidence and ensure that our estimates of human exposure are accurate.”

The Summit has been organised by environmental NGO Plastic Soup Foundation, initiator of the Plastic Health Coalition.

The Summit sees research and testimonials presented by international experts from Indonesia, Malawi, Greenland, The Netherlands, UK, and the US.

Scientists, campaigners, activists and legal experts will share how plastic, in its entire lifecycle from the production-, to the user- to the disposal phase, poses a threat to the environment and people around the globe.