Potentially toxic microplastics found in 100 percent of human placenta analyzed in a new study have suggested that “all mammalian life on this planet could be affected.”
A team from the University of New Mexico examined 62 women’s placentas and found that each contained small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long.
The particles ranged in size from 6.5 to 790 micrograms, with an average concentration of 128.6 micrograms per gram of donated placenta.
The most common plastics found in the samples were those used in plastic bags and bottles, accounting for 54 percent, while materials used in construction and nylon accounted for 10 percent, and the remainder were nine other plastics.
Microplastics are linked to cancer, fertility problems and dementia, and some researchers and public health experts fear they could cause babies to be born with low weight.
These optical microscope images show microplastics in human placenta samples. The bottom row is illuminated with UV light to show how much plastic remains in the sample, even after the fabric has been processed.
Microplastics have been found almost everywhere on Earth, including beaches, mountains, and pristine wilderness areas.
‘YOIf we are seeing effects on placentas, tThen all mammalian life on this planet could be affected. That’s not good,” she said.Matthew Campen, lead author of the study.
Plastics that end up in landfills release small particles into groundwater and sometimes as aerosols into the atmosphere, reaching our food, water and bodies.
“This problem is going to get worse over time because all these plastics in our environment are degrading and turning into microplastics, and the concentrations are going to increase,” Campen told DailyMail.com.
While many may think of the placenta as a barrier to the outside world, it appears they are not safe from microplastics.
Campen and his team devised a new method that allowed them to extract small particles from tissues taken from each placenta.
The method, called pyrolysis gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS), involves heating samples until they burn.
The fetus has a direct line to the mother, but microplastics hijack this line by binding to fats.
Different materials and chemicals ignite at different temperatures and, as they do so, give off a chemical signature that was captured by Campen’s team and his team.
“We can get a complete picture in one number of all the different sizes and shapes of all the different plastic particles that are in the tissue,” he said.
In the study, researchers examined placentas, but Py-GC-MS was able to analyze “basically any tissue sample you can get your hands on,” said Campen, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of New Mexico.
About the only thing it can’t be used on is a living human being.
Campen said most of the research done so far has been limited by the ability of microscopes to see the smallest fragments of microplastics.
A micrometer, he said, is about the smallest fragment of microplastic that a conventional optical microscope can show.
But with the Py-GC-MS method, Campen and his team were able to see all the pieces in the nanometer range.
This is an important breakthrough for scientists in this area, as all microplastics found in the environment will continue to break down and become even smaller, he said.
In fact, they are likely to affect all mammalian life.
He study was published in the magazine Toxicological Sciences.
Campen and his team are currently using Py-GC-MS to analyze autopsy samples, and the work is still in progress, but their early results match what this study found, he said.
But based on this latest study, it’s too early to panic about exposure to microplastics during pregnancy, Campen said.
Additionally, trying to change your diet during pregnancy in an effort to avoid microplastics could lead to worse health problems for the developing fetus, she said.
That said, it is “quite likely” that the presence of microplastics in the placenta means they reached the developing fetus.
“We absolutely believe there is some transportation process,” Campen said.
Plastic has a high affinity for fat, as anyone who has tried to remove fat from a plastic food storage container has learned.
So, dietary fat, passing through the umbilical cord to the developing fetus, creates a kind of “avenue” for all the microplastics that a mother inadvertently consumes.
Microplastics are seemingly everywhere. But where do they come from? This graphic shows some of its many sources: industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, clothing, single-use plastics and more.
‘Your body needs it and the growing fetus needs it too. “We think nanoplastics are hijacking that system,” Campen said.
“They escape because they look like other things that the fetus needs,” he added.
She noted that it is too early to know exactly what the long-term consequences of exposure to microplastics are for mother and child.
Therefore, trying to avoid microplastics by avoiding fat during pregnancy could have worse consequences, since fat is a vital source of nutrition and energy for the developing brain.