Scientists Found Microplastics in Human Placentas

When researchers from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences analyzed donated human placentas, they found microplastics in every single one, including plastics used to make plastic bags and drinking water pipes.

The study, published on February 17 in Toxicological Sciences, used a new analytical technique to examine 62 donated human placenta samples for the presence of nanoplastics and microplastics.

During the analysis, the researchers found microplastics at concentrations ranging from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue in every placenta they tested.


The most prevalent microplastic found was polyethylene, a type of plastic used to make plastic bags and water bottles. The scientists discovered this polymer in nearly all placenta samples, accounting for 54% of the total microplastics identified.

The team also found that 10% of the microplastics in the placenta samples consisted of nylon and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and nine other polymers accounted for the remaining 26%.

In a 2023 study, researchers found that high doses of polyethylene microplastics had a negative impact on cells in the intestines.

In addition, a 2022 study using rats found that nylon polymer nanoplastics can pass through the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream. Moreover, manufacturers make PVC by using vinyl chloride, a chemical associated with a rare form of liver cancer. Still, according to the National Institutes of Health, PVC is not a known or suspected carcinogen.

Though the number of microplastics detected was low, the study's authors have concerns over the potential impact on human health.

In a University of New Mexico press release, Matthew Campen, Ph.D., Regents' Professor in the UNM Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said, "Dose makes the poison. If the dose keeps going up, we start to worry. If we're seeing effects on placentas, then all mammalian life on this planet could be impacted. That's not good."

Campen explained that while most assume that plastics are biologically inert, meaning they don't interact with tissues, some microplastics are so tiny they could cross cell membranes.

Recent research revealed that the chemicals in some plastics are potential neurotoxicants, human carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors. Moreover, people working in plastic manufacturing facilities may have an increased risk of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.


Campen suggested that the rising concentrations of microplastics in human tissue might explain the mysterious increases in health problems like inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and colon cancer in young people and may contribute to the decline in sperm counts over the past 50 years.

According to the study's authors, microplastics accumulating in the human placenta, which only grows for about eight months, is particularly concerning because other organs and tissues in the body may be experiencing microplastic accumulation over a much longer timeframe.

"It's only getting worse, and the trajectory is it will double every 10 to 15 years," Campen said. "So, even if we were to stop it today, in 2050 there will be three times as much plastic in the background as there is now. And we're not going to stop it today."

Despite the widespread distribution of microplastics in the environment, their impact on human health remains unknown. Therefore, the study's authors plan to conduct more investigations to understand the long-term health effects of nano and microplastics on the human body.


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