Would you like your leftover sesame chicken with a side of nanoplastics? If so, research has found that microwaving plastic releases billions of chemicals into your food.
Researcher and doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kazi Albab Hussain, was inspired when he was looking at his new baby's food. Should he microwave them as instructed? What was his baby really ingesting?
He would eventually publish his findings in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology which would reveal that no, Hussain did not want to serve his baby any food from the plastic containers, ever.
Sure, microplastics are quite literally everywhere. Probably even in the clothing you are wearing. However, Hussain's study is different. It shows how microwaving the containers not only releases the microplastics, but it also releases their components, called nanoplastics — even smaller than microplastics — and toxic chemicals called leachates.
The study found that some containers released 4.22 million microplastics and 2.11 billion nanoplastic particles within three minutes of microwaving.
"When we eat specific foods, we are generally informed or have an idea about their caloric content, sugar levels, other nutrients. I believe it’s equally important that we are aware of the number of plastic particles present in our food."- Hussain, UNL press release
While releasing chemicals occurs mostly when microwaving a container or package, the researchers found that refrigeration and room-temperature storage for over six months released millions to billions of chemicals as well.
Hussain studied the plastics — which are all FDA-approved — under various conditions and then peered under a microscope. He found that 75 percent of cultured kidney cells died after being exposed to the particles found in the microwaved baby food containers.
While our kidneys typically remove waste, and can do so with the majority of larger microplastics, nanoplastics are a whole new beast. They are incredibly tiny, making them susceptible to travel to areas of the body where they shouldn't go.
"I am hopeful that a day will come when these products display labels that read 'microplastics-free' or 'nanoplastic-free.'"- Hussain
Although scientists aren't sure what the health hazards are of consuming micro- and nanoplastics, the WHO recommends that people limit their exposure to these chemicals. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found an association between a chemical compound found in plastics and heart health, reproductive health, and breast cancer.
In short, if you're pregnant, a baby, or really, just anyone — don't microwave plastic.
- Environmental Science & Technology. Assessing the Release of Microplastics and Nanoplastics from Plastic Containers and Reusable Food Pouches: Implications for Human Health.
- Nebraska Today. Nebraska Study Finds Billions of Nanoplastics Released When Microwaving.
- WHO. Dietary and inhalation exposure to nano- and microplastic particles and potential implications for human health.
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Micrpplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health