A new study has found tiny plastic particles no bigger than sesame seeds buried throughout human lungs, indicating that people are inhaling microplastics lingering in the air.
“We found a far greater number of microplastic particles than we were expecting,” said Lauren Jenner, a postgraduate researcher at the Hull York Medical School in Britain and lead author of the study. “This study underlines that microplastics are everywhere.”
While previous research has found microplastics in lung tissue gathered from cadavers, this is the first to locate plastic particles in the lungs of living humans. For the study, scientists collected tissue samples from 13 patients undergoing surgery, finding microplastics in 11 of those patients. Polypropylene, which is used in plastic packaging, and PET, which is used in disposable plastic bottles, were the most prevalent forms of plastic. The findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
“We did not expect to find the highest number of particles in the lower regions of the lungs, or particles of the sizes we found,” said Laura Sadofsky, a lecturer at Hull York and co-author of the study. “This is surprising as the airways are smaller in the lower parts of the lungs and we would have expected particles of these sizes to be filtered out or trapped before getting this deep into the lungs.”
In addition to inhaling microplastics, humans are ingesting plastic particles in their food and drinking water. A recent study found microplastics floating in human blood, with potentially harmful and lasting effects. Said Jenner, “Plastics are designed to be durable, so they may remain inside the body for long periods without the possibility of these being broken down or removed.”