Plastic Particles Found in Human Blood

The science behind it and the future beyond it


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

A research team in the Netherlands developed and validated a detection system for very small plastic particles in human blood. The work, published online in late March, will assist in determining a human health risk assessment for pollution, exposure and toxicological hazard.

The manuscript opens by citing the numerous other studies that have created effective detection systems for plastic particles including “biota (or gut contents), air, water, sediment and foodstuffs.” In these materials, the plastic particles detected and tested are sized above 10 microns.

Going smaller than that size, the literature becomes scarce or nonexistent. The sheer fact that “capillaries are typically only five to eight microns in diameter” produces the unique challenge of creating a new detection system that can find smaller particles.

On a positive note, as the authors said, “This forms a limit to particle sizes that can be expected.”

Approaching this new scale of particle requires the coherence of multiple detection systems including techniques from spectroscopy, the field of study that measures and evaluates the electromagnetic spectrum.

The team analyzed 22 blood samples for five different plastics and found plastic particles in 17 samples. To ensure their equipment was not contaminated, the research team managed to use zero-plastic methods of collecting, storing and sampling the blood.

Additionally, the team ran multiple control sample groups to not only further develop the detection system but also to validate their results.

The five target plastics were polymethyl methacrylate)(PMMA), polypropylene (PP), polymerized styrene (PS), polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

These plastics can be found in everyday items. PMMA, also known as fiberglass, can be used for siding and other construction materials. PP is used for heat resistant materials like reusable containers. PS is used for packaging and rigid containers. PE, the most used plastic, makes up plastic grocery store bags. Similar to PE, PET goes into heat resistant materials.

The commonality of these plastics suggest that health risk assessments in the future will need to begin to account for plastic contamination in blood.

Much remains to be determined and researched about plastic particles in the body. The authors mention toward the end of the manuscript that “it remains to be determined whether plastic particles are present in the plasma or are carried by specific cell types” and, in that line of investigation, to what extent cells transport plastics throughout.