This is certainly something to be concerned about, but without that context it's hard to know what this really means.
The article says a "microplastic particle" is any peice of plastic smaller than 5mm. That's bigger than some pills - I would definitely notice chewing on something that size.
So how big are these really and what are they doing to me?
For reference, the US and EU both regulate that 10 micrograms per liter of arsenic in drinking water is safe. Using my rusty high school chemistry (please correct me if I'm wrong), this is on the order of ~10^20 particles (atoms) of arsenic per year. That's way way more than 100k and arsenic is more inherently harmful to humans than plastic.
This could easily be genuine epidemic levels of awful, or it could be completely nothing. Does anyone know more?
I double checked the article and you are right, this is why the use of the apothocary symbols are not used in medicine any more it should be "5 and 20 μm polystyrene micro-particles elicited somewhat similar pathological and physiological changes in mice. These, particularly the 5 μm micro-particles, could be detected in histological sections of the gut, liver and kidney." The symbol means micro or an order of a million times smaller than a gram/meter so the particulate size appears misstated and is actually an order of 1000 times smaller than a millimeter.
> This could easily be genuine epidemic levels of awful, or it could be completely nothing. Does anyone know more?
It has been shown microplastic contamination is very significant in plastic-bottled single-use drinking water. Avoiding exposure as much as possible is 100% best medical advice, avoid drinking from single-use plastic bottles whenever possible. An infographic from WHO: https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/03/16/study-...
As for health effects microplastics definitely bioaccumulate in the gut, liver and kidneys in mice. Mice are not human but as this is a basic physiology issue it is very highly likely that they also bioaccumulate in humans. It is not clear whether humans or mice can ever clear these particles, it is likely they can damage these organs over time, they do cause biomarker and endocrine changes short term. This can indicate damage, possible scaring and a propensity to weight gain respectively. Also other unknown fun stuff. It is probably dose-dependent so if you avoid single use plastic bottled water thats key. The food supply issue (seafood) is less significant from a human health standpoint.
Eleven globally sourced brands of bottled water, purchased in 19 locations in nine different countries, were tested for microplastic contamination using Nile Red tagging. Of the 259 total bottles processed, 93% showed some sign of microplastic contamination. After accounting for possible background (lab) contamination, an average of 10.4 microplastic particles >100 um in size per liter of bottled water processed were found. Fragments were the most common morphology (66%) followed by fibers. Half of these particles were confirmed to be polymeric in nature using FTIR spectroscopy with polypropylene being the most common polymer type (54%), which matches a common plastic used for the manufacture of bottle caps. A small fraction of particles (4%) showed the presence of industrial lubricants. While spectroscopic analysis of particles smaller than 100 um was not possible, the adsorption of the Nile Red dye indicates that these particles are most probably plastic. Including these smaller particles (6.5–100 um), an average of 325 microplastic particles per liter of bottled water was found. Microplastic contamination range of 0 to over 10,000 microplastic particles per liter with 95% of particles being between 6.5 and 100 um in size. Data suggests the contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself. Given the prevalence of the consumption of bottled water across the globe, the results of this study support the need for further studies on the impacts of micro- and nano- plastics on human health.
That would be rather easy to check - take a bunch of dead humans who likely consumed a lot of bottled water (i.e. pretty much any urban dweller) and check them for microplastics in certain organs. Has this kind of research already been done and if not, why not?
Also, "piece smaller than 5mm" can be a huge 4mm chunk of plastic or one molecule. Depending on that, the average of 325 particles per liter could be enormous or completely insignificant.
It's hard to assess, and I'd find it saner to assume ingesting regularly inorganic synthetic materials our body did't evolve with to be risky and take measure before we know for sure.
Even if it's just because of intertia: it took almost a century between knowing that asbestos was dangerous and ban. So let's not wait.
According to the paper, a) they're mostly microscopic pieces of lint from synthetic textiles and b) we don't know. Given the amount of research that has looked for health harms related to plastics exposure, I operate on the assumption that if it was a big deal, we would have found something by now.
If the claims of consumption are true, then people have been ingesting plastics for a long time and there have been no observed ill effects attributable to it, and I'd say it's more like "we have plenty of evidence that it's not really harmful" than "we don't know" --- but of course, the latter makes for more sensational reporting and fearmongering...
This somewhat reminds me of the paranoia surrounding radio waves and non-ionising radiation --- surely there would be some obviously noticeable negative effects by now, after well over a century of use, but the evidence strongly says that beyond known effects like heating, there's nothing else to worry about.
It's like those articles that claim (and likely are true) that people ingest X insects/spiders/other-disgusting-thing every year; it's sensational, but not really something to worry about (personally, I'd rather ingest the plastic...)
I've noticed there's a bit of an anti-plastic movement going on lately, with plenty of FUD articles like this being spread (not just on HN, but elsewhere), and I wonder if there's an ulterior motive...
For example men's spermcounts have been going down steadily and predictably for over 30 years, and are now HALF what they were 30 years ago. Scientists have done thousands of studies and haven't identified a root cause. (I bring this up because many plastics are made flexible with a xenoestrogen named BPA)
We can't say "Plastics must be fine," we have no control group to compare against. For all you know the increases in allergies, nearsightedness, autoimmune disorders, or reduced sperm count are related.
Remember when leaded gasoline reduced a whole generation's IQ by a few points and caused a crimewave? Sometimes the negative effects of an enviromental choice take decades to figure out.
It's past time to switch into a "cautious until proven safe" way of thinking when it comes to health and environment.
Phthalates are commonly used to make plastics more flexible. They are also estrogenic.
Parabens, PCBs, and pesticides are all other common entrants into the body with estrogenic effects.
( Reduced sperm count and sperm quality)
The entire series is a good read, too:
Then there likely isn't one, beyond maybe natural evolution itself.
That was actually a very noticeable effect that plenty of studies showed evidence of, unlike this one.
We'd still be living like cavemen if that were the case.
To believe that a novel substance is benign until proven otherwise is just a form of bias. There is no objective reason why a substance should be innocent until proven guilty. We just have to adopt that policy out of practicality!
My whole point is that we are dealing with crazy big and crazy small numbers. Without more context they are all meaningless.
Amazon could make this move happen pretty quickly with amazon.com and Whole Foods. I'm sure there would be difficulties involved but they don't seem insurmountable.
Edit: here is a video showing what the lining looks like.
Yeah I’m sure they’d lose a ton of money. Glass is heavy and expensive plus the added liability of it breaking and a consumer reaching their hand inside.
Do people just make this stuff as up as a concern? There are plenty of areas where this is done without problems.
Drop a plastic container and it's going to dent or rupture at most, and the product it contains will likely still be recoverable.
I'm not sure why you are concerned about this because it is obviously not a big problem.
We didn't though. Glass is still the standard packaging for a wide range of products.
Mustard, olives, oil, beer!, pickles, apple sauce, cocktail sauce, salsa, spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise, anchovies, archichoke hearts, various ground spices, balsamic vinegar salad dressing, and much much more. That's just a small sampling of the glass packaged foods I've bought from the grocery store in 2019.
If glass is such a logistics nightmare, then why is the pickle industry still using it? Because it actually not a logistics nightmare. It weights a bit more, and it's a bit more fragile, but neither are a serious enough factor to actually remove glass containers from the market. Beer you might say is a high margin item, except there are a lot of really cheap beers that come in glass. My six-pack of coors light is not exactly a $20 bespoke hyper-IPA west coast microbrew, you know what I mean? It's in the same price (and class) range as a six-pack of Al-canned rolling rock. Also my glass jar of pickles were the dirt cheap generic brand pickles.
Plastic is more moldable than glass. It can be shrunk fitted to the object it contains, such as sliced cheese, sliced turkey, etc. It can be molded into odd shapes like a 6 pack of Apple sauce that is easily packed with a kid's lunch bag (and a parent need not worry about damage to the containers in transit).
Tons of benefits to using plastic. Glass is used with beer because glass is a worse insulator than plastic, so the container is as cold as the liquid inside. That's why consumers prefer it for beverages.
Plastic is of course cheaper (ignoring externalities) and of course has advantageous qualities. That's why we use plastic. It is a good material.
But we can deal with glass if we decide the true cost of plastic is too high, even if the glass breaks.
Plastic edges can cut you to the bone pretty easily. Clamshell package victims attest to this year after year.
Can't I just go choke on a plastic bottle somewhere and swing the legal preference back the other way, if that's truly the issue?
I agree with you on the weight aspect though. It'd be difficult to get goods producers to reduce their profits altruistically.
If I recall correctly, it's $2.50 extra per bottle for the glass but you get $2.00 back if you return it on the next delivery.
Regarded as safe since the plastic just gets excreted in the feces.
I try to shop at local farmers markets (I'm willing to pay a small premium for knowing exactly where my food is coming from), and even in those cases the guy behind the table reflexively reaches for a plastic bag nearly every time. I always bring my own canvas bags or a backpack, but this has become so culturally ingrained in this country. Is it like this in Europe? I used to poo poo attempts at restricting the use of straws and plastic single-use containers, but now I'm warming up to the idea of outright dropping the ban hammer. These things are gross and they end up in the gutters, and make cities look dirty and poorly managed. We survived without them for a long time. We should figure out a way to do so again.
Aluminum and glass. We have ways, we only need the political will to mandate their uses and discontinue plastics over a short period of say 10-20 years.
It takes much more fuel to transport glass containers and once broken it isn't recycled. Although glass is inert so in a landfill it isn't a problem I guess that's an benefit.
We also survived for a very long time without refrigerated food, running water, sewer systems, electricity, computers, or sterile medical procedures.
Personally, I feel sad about the plastic waste too, but more because it's a waste of a perfectly good material with some very desirable properties. Definitely against a ban, but definitely for more reuse and recycling.
Plastic bags are naturally waterproof, have a high strength-to-weight ratio, and don't easily let bacteria grow. If made sturdy enough, like they used to be, they can even be easily cleaned and reused, because dirt does not soak into them.
Edit: it's amusing how voracious the anti-plastic brigade is here...
You can reuse a plastic tupperware container many times. I've had the same plastic water bottle for 10+ years.
At the same time you can still litter aluminum cans and smash glass bottles on the street.
Getting too focused on the material is not helpful IMO. Societally, we need to shift from disposability and overconsumption.
Buy less things. Make them last.
What will be the timescale and effect of a new category of microbes on earthly micro-flora? In soils, in foodchains and within our own guts ? This uncertainty presents an unpredictable biohazard. An intelligent population having noticed its accidental emissions would try to limit and reduce them in scale for its own and future generations biological security.
Did you link the wrong article or something?
Why don't you think about the implications of the stuff not only everywhere in the environment, but as small (almost nano?) particles whith large surface, releasing their shiny sparkles/oily smears/pick your poison into your innards.
It's got electrolytez!
wow, that is big... they can be almost 2/10 of an inch (I think I would choke on that)
This study from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia showed that broken glass bottles accounted for 15% of all lacerations in children (the largest single cause) and broken glass bottles most frequently inflicted injuries resulting in functional impairment or hospitalization
There may be a possible danger from plastic bottles over the long term, but widespread glass bottle adoptions is going to result in a lot of lacerated kids.
I'm just not concerned about ingesting tiny quantities of something that might possibly be harmful, even though we've been looking really hard for harms for quite a long time and haven't found anything of note. My environment is full of stuff that we know to be definitely harmful - could we fix that please, before we start worrying about stuff that might possibly be harmful?