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The Dangers of Microplastics to Health, Part 1 of 2

2021-01-16
Language:English

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We are surrounded by plastic. It’s used for food packaging, shopping bags, computer parts, cosmetics, clothing, home appliances, and so on. Plastics are made from a wide range of synthetic, semi-synthetic and naturally occurring compounds. Scientifically speaking, these compounds are composed of repeating monomers, which are based on the bonding of carbon and other elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, etc. It is these repeating monomers that make plastics strong, lightweight, and flexible.

Only recently has there been an increasing awareness of health consequences to humans from plastics. Plastics are currently produced at a rate of approximately 320 million tons per year, and an astonishing 40% of this amount can be classified as single-use, leading to unending piles of plastic waste. Microplastics are less than 5 millimeters in diameter. Some microplastics originally were macroplastics, but they disintegrated into smaller fragments by mechanical abrasion and ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Due to their light weight, microplastics can easily recirculate between seawater and beach sediments via winds and currents. Not only are marine animals endangered by the presence of microplastics in seawater but algae are also victims of the toxicity leached from them. Microplastics have significant negative impacts on tissue, cellular and biochemical functions of organisms. The resulting deaths from microplastics exposure imperil biodiversity and ecosystems.

In a 2015 study, scientists found microplastics in 15 brands of table salt available in the consumer market in China. The products sourced the salt from oceans, lakes, or rocks. The scientists found nearly 700 microplastic pieces in size down to 45 micrometers in one kilogram of sea salt. Among them, the predominate plastic detected was polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is commonly used to make single-use bottles for water and other packaged drinks. In addition to the dietary exposure pathway, evidence for atmospheric fallout containing microplastics has been found.

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