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Do Microplastics Affect Air Quality?

Updated: Jul 11

Do Microplastics Affect Air Quality, Plastic in a heap pile

Do Microplastics affect air quality? The news has been bad the last few years, and it looks like microplastics are another topic of bad news.

When we hear or read about microplastics, it's generally in the context of water pollution since plastics, as they take hundreds of years to break down, systematically leach from landfills into our waterways. A less known way that microplastics might adversely impact our health is through the air we breathe.

And, We are Breathing Microplastics Too

What microplastics are we breathing in daily—when working at home, driving to the office, cycling or running, or in different environments? There's a significant knowledge gap, and thanks to researchers around the globe, we will find answers, but time is of the essence. The American Lung Association's chief medical officer Albert Rizzo compares the decades-long effort to convince the government that smoking causes cancer and the current attempts to prove the adverse reactions caused by inhaling and ingesting microplastics. "By the time we got enough evidence to lead to policy change, the cat was out of the bag. I can see plastics being the same thing. Will we find out in 40 years that microplastics in the lungs led to premature lung aging or emphysema? We don't know that. In the meantime, can we make plastics safer?" 1

Plastics continue to fragment in the environment, "shredding" into fibers smaller than a strand of human hair and therefore easily airborne and inhaled. We live in a cloud of airborne dust particles, and our bodies have grown accustomed to them; however, people with dust allergies and asthmatic people show visible signs of suffering. Add microplastics to the mix of airborne dust, and the results may be concerning.

Plastic Articles in Humans Where They Hadn't Been Seen Before

This spring, scientists from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom announced they had found tiny plastic particles in living humans in two places they hadn't been seen before: deep inside the lungs of surgical patients and in the blood of anonymous donors. Together the studies signaled a shift in the focus of concern on airborne microplastics.2

Dick Vethaak, a professor emeritus of ecotoxicology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and co-author of the blood study, says, "Plastics should not be in your blood. We live in a multi-particle world, so the trick is to figure out how much plastics contribute to that particle burden and what does that mean." 3

And, They are Toxic Too

The lung study at the University of Hull in the U.K. showed how intrusive airborne particles could be. Researchers were stunned to find the highest number of plastics of various shapes and sizes embedded deep in the lower lung lobe. One of the fibers was two millimeters long.

"You would not expect to find microplastics in the smallest parts of the lung with the smallest diameter," says Hull environmental ecologist Jeannette Rothchell.5 And, according to Kari Nadeau, a Stanford University physician and director of allergy and asthma research," the particles identified in the University of Hull lung study are known to be toxic to humans. They have caused lung irritation, dizziness, headaches, asthma, and more." 6

And, They are Indoors Too

Another team—at the University of Plymouth in the U.K.— decided to compare the threat of eating contaminated, wild mussels in Scotland to breathing air in a typical home. They concluded that people would take in more plastic by inhaling tiny, invisible plastic fibers floating in the air around them, fibers shed by their clothes, carpets, and upholstery, than by eating the mussels.7

Possible "Good News"?

In both studies, the plastic particles found were primarily smaller than one micrometer, small enough to have been inhaled. Whether such particles can pass from the blood into other organs, especially into the brain, which is protected by a unique, dense network of cells that form a barrier, isn't clear. "We know particles can be transported throughout the body via the river of blood," Vethaak says.4

Note: one micrometer = one micron. So if your air purifier will filter smaller particles of .003 microns, then many of the plastic particles can be filtered from your inside air. More info to come on this subject.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7 Source

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