Dangers of microplastics

7 Feb 2023

Scope of the issue:

We are all aware of plastic pollution in general due to waste build up in oceans, waterways, beaches etc. The damage it can cause is noticeable and scientists and government level organisations have combatted this global issue by regulations and clean up activities along high priority beaches. However, all of the plastics to this scale are easily detectable as we have satellites from CSIRO that are able to detect large quantities of plastic waste in our oceans for example. Plastic pollution is everywhere and we know roughly where all the sources are, what is being affected and mostly how to combat it.

This brings me to the main issue. Microplastics. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles which have a length of 5mm or less. These microplastics have the exact same properties as the macroplastics we would find washed up along shores or in large bodies of water but they are much much harder to detect. In fact, many studies have been created to sample different locations to detect the levels of microplastics. From roads to water ways to residential areas, studies have shown progressively more and more concerning distributions of these microplastics.

The image above depicts a visualisation to how larger macroplastics break down into microplastics once they have been discarded. As the caption says, Tiny plastics, big problem.

Health effects:

A list of related health effects from microplastic ingestion can include:

  • Inflammation
  • Genotoxicity
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases

Now this list isn't so to say that the ingestion of microplastics will lead to these things of even a small quantity. It is more accurate to say the consumption of microplastics over time due to the fact that they stay in your body for a very long time and can disrupt organ function will result in these typical health detriments to be more probable.

Where is the danger?

Aside from microplastics being generally undetectable to the naked eye for sizes in the micrometers, the most common source of microplastics that would be a danger to humans would be our water supply. Second to this would be from our food chain mainly from seafood and farmed animals as the food that they eat will also end up in our bellies too. On the topic of water supplies, some of our waterways are already filled with microplastics that can become harmful to humans at the high level of consumption. What is really the deal breaker is the removal of microplastics from our oceans and waterways. The prevention of microplastic pollution is a lot easier than the restoration of currently polluted areas. While there has been developments to separate microplastics from drinking water, they are still in experimentation phases and are definitely not suitable to be tested in our actual water reservoirs.

What can we do?

Become vegan.
Just kidding. While that may help a small fraction, the dangers of microplastic are far too crucial towards are water supplies. What we can do as individuals is to recycle properly, consume less single plastic products, use organic clothing, dusting and vacuuming regularly are just the beginnings of what individuals can do to prevent the train of microplastic pollution. In terms of restoration, that is up to the scientists, so you could become one too and save our planet =)

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