More microplastics in babies’ faeces than in adults’ – study

A study found that infants are more likely to have microplastics in their faeces as adults than they are for children.
Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5mm that were released into the environment by the breaking down of larger plastic objects. Because they are difficult to biodegrade, microplastics pose a danger to the environment. Recent research has shown that microplastics can be found in food, water, and even human faeces.

Although microplastic exposure is a potential health risk, little is known about the extent of it. Researchers from New York University School of Medicine found that infants had 10 to 20 times more microplastics in their stool than adults. This was especially true for PET (polyethylene triterephthalate). These plastics are used in textile fibres, water bottles, and cell phone cases.

According to Kurunthachalam Kanan, who is the principal researcher and a professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine's paediatrics department, microplastics are a serious health risk. It is important to reduce the amount of plastics that are being used by children. Plastics should not be used in children's products.

The American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology Letters published the research.

The average person could consume up to 5g of microplastic per week, according to estimates. Some microplastics go through the digestive system easily and are expelled in the feces. Other microplastics accumulate within the body's organs. Recent research has revealed that some pieces can cross cell membranes and enter bloodstreams. Studies have also shown that microplastics can be transmitted from mother to baby through the placenta.

Although not much is known about the effects of microplastics on and potential damage to the human body, some laboratory tests have shown that they can cause inflammation, cell shut down, and other metabolic problems.

Kannan and his colleagues examined the faeces from six infants, 10 adults and three newborns' first stool using mass spectrometry. This allowed them to examine human exposures to polycarbonate (PC) and PET, two of the most common microplastics. Each sample contained at least one type microplastic.

Adults and infants had roughly the same level of microplastics but infants had 10-20 times more PET microplastics.

Kannan explained that we were shocked to see infants exposed at higher levels than adults. However, Kannan later attempted to identify the sources of infant exposure. This can be caused by infants chewing on fabrics and crawling on carpets. It also happens when they are exposed to plastic toys, teethers, feeding bottles, spoons, and other products for children.

These results are consistent with other studies, although few, that have examined microplastic contamination in stool. Scott Coffin is a researcher at the California State Water Resources Control Board and was not involved in this research. These results may suggest that current estimates for exposure to microplastics might be underrepresentative. Coffin cited the Wageningen University and Research study, which he considers to be the most thorough to date.

Coffin said that one component of this study that was not taken into account is the accumulation microplastics in organs after exposure. Coffin stated that it is unlikely that all microplastics are excreted in humans. Therefore, the overall levels might be higher. These details and many others are still being worked out in future studies.

There is the possibility of contamination in the experiments with microplastics and faeces (contamination by diapers or the equipment). Coffin says that the method Coffin used to calculate the microplastics content in faeces was not well-validated.

Although the risks and exposure of microplastics to human health are not fully understood, Coffin stated that the study provided important preliminary data.