Microplastics can cross placenta into unborn babies, study shows

Scientists warn it is impossible to stop children ingesting the tiny plastic particles as well as even smaller nanoplastics

Gwyn Wright
Wednesday 28 December 2022 11:25 GMT
Plastic Oceans International explains what Microplastics are

Microplastics have been found to cross the placenta into unborn babies, a shocking study reveals.

Scientists warn it is impossible to stop children ingesting the tiny plastic particles as well as even smaller nanoplastics, which can be found almost everywhere.

Microplastics have also been found in newborn children, the researchers add.

Infants ingest microplastics from baby bottles, toys, textiles and food packaging.

When microplastics end up in household dust, children can ingest them by playing and crawling on the floor.

Microplastics contain other harmful chemicals as well as plastic, such as phthalates and metals added for colour, stabilisation or as a biocide.

When microplastics end up outdoors, for example as particles from car tires, this plastic core is often coated with air pollution and car exhaust.

Regulations for plastic in various goods, such as toys and baby bottles, and for the handling of plastic waste vary around the world.

This means children are exposed to very different amounts of plastic depending on where they live.

People living in poverty have much greater exposure to microplastics.

Study author Kam Sripada from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said: “It’s quite possible that children are more exposed to microplastics than adults, similar to children’s greater exposure to many other environmental toxic chemicals.

“No one knows exactly how much microplastic a child ingests, but several studies now suggest that today’s children absorb microplastics in their bodies as early as at foetal age. This is concerning.

“Children do not have a fully developed immune system and are in a very important phase of their brain development.

“This makes them particularly vulnerable. Nano and microplastics are so miniscule that they can travel deep into the lungs and can also cross into the placenta.

“At the same time, they transport dangerous chemicals with them on their journey.

“That’s why we believe that nano and microplastics can be a health risk for children.”

Parents can reduce the amount of plastic their children are exposed to by making sure their food is wrapped in as little plastic as possible, cleaning the house, choosing hygiene products with less plastic and choosing building materials that don’t contain PVC or other plastics when making home renovations.

For the study, the team looked at 37 articles about microplastics and nanoplastics in connection with pregnancy and childhood.

They say there is not enough existing research about children’s exposure to the nasty plastics at school, in neonatal wards and through breast milk, breast milk substitutes and baby care products.

Almost no studies have tried to work out how much plastic children ingest.

This lack of existing studies can partly be explained by limitations in existing technology for researching very small particles.

We do know that when we are in our mother’s womb and throughout our childhood we are especially exposed to environmental toxic chemicals, nanoplastics and microplastics.

The team say more research is needed into pregnant women’s level of exposure to various plastic substances, and how plastic can be transferred to the foetus.

They also say it is not just individuals who need to act if children are to be exposed to fewer microplastics.

Ms Sripada added: “The authorities and industry bear the responsibility. We strongly encourage them to uphold the precautionary principle.

“Both central and local authorities can do a lot to ensure that the public is exposed to less plastic.

“The industries that manufacture the various plastic products aimed at children and women should be prudent and ensure that these products leach as little as possible.”

The findings were published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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