Microplastics and Health Risks: What Do We Really Know?

(Web MD 10/28/22)

You eat a credit card’s worth of plastic in a week. That may bother you. But does it harm you?

The answer depends on who you ask. Awareness of microplastics in general is certainly increasing; the most recent news is the detection of microplastics in human breast milk. Other research has suggested that we may be consuming up to 5 grams of plastic each week from our food, water, and certain consumer products.

The World Health Organization has been releasing reports on microplastics and human health since 2019. Their most recent report was released in late August 2022. 

“Although the limited data provide little evidence that nano- and microplastic particles have adverse effects in humans, there is increasing public awareness and an overwhelming consensus among all stakeholders that plastics do not belong in the environment, and measures should be taken to mitigate exposure,” the WHO said at the time. 

The WHO can’t go beyond what the data shows, of course. If microplastics are wreaking long-term havoc in our bodies as we speak, science hasn’t connected the dots enough to definitively say “this is the problem.” 

But some researchers are willing to speculate — and, at the very least, the risks are becoming impossible to ignore. Dick Vethaak, PhD, a microplastics researcher and emeritus professor of ecotoxicology at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is blunt, calling them “a plastic time bomb.”

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