What are microplastics?
Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5mm in length, according to both the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Chemicals Agency. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to degrade.
The term macroplastics is used to differentiate microplastics from larger plastic waste, such as plastic bottles. Some common sources of microplastics include water and soda bottles, plastic bags, teabags, microwaveable containers and fishing nets etc. For example, it was found that 93% of the bottled water from 11 different brands, showed microplastic contamination. Compared to water from taps, water from plastic bottles contained twice as much microplastic.
It is not yet understood how the presence of microplastic can affect human bodies, but it is known that microplastics can carry toxic chemicals added to them during production processes, to achieve certain plastic qualities, like longevity.
What did the study find?
The placenta was collected from women with uneventful pregnancies. The analysis was performed using Raman microspectroscopy method, and revealed the presence of microplastics in collected parts of placentas. The particles found had different sizes, colours and chemical features. This was the first-time man-made particles were found present in human placenta.
Microplastics might have potentially arrived in placentas from the respiratory and gastric organs. Microparticles in placenta may alter several cellular regulating pathways in placenta, such as immunity mechanisms during pregnancy and growth-factor signalling, during and after implantation, functions of atypical chemokine receptors governing maternal-foetal communication, signalling between the embryo and the uterus, and trafficking of uterine dendritic cells, natural killer cells, T cells and macrophages during normal pregnancy. All these effects may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes including preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction.
Increasing our understanding of the potential impacts of microplastics on our bodies is important in making positive choices throughout pregnancy and childbirth.