The world has produced more than 10 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, and we just keep making more. In 2018, 400 million tons of new plastic ash been produced, and production is expected to almost quadruple by 2050. The vast majority of that plastic eventually ends up piled up around the planet.
Any plastic item—bag or bottle, toy or chair—starts to come apart with use and time, breaking down into tinier and tinier fragments. Most of the plastic produced hasn’t been recycled (see “What’s Gone Wrong With Recycling”). But it’s not just old plastic that has disintegrated into particles that make their way into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Cracking open a brand-new plastic bottle or tearing a wrapper off a sandwich releases fragments of plastic that we might end up ingesting. Household dust can be full of microplastics—and it’s possible that you might kick this up into the air from your carpet and breathe it in. Plastic fibers even wash off clothes into our water supplies.
Fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters in length are known as “microplastics,” and scientists have started to refer to even more microscopic fragments—generally smaller than 1,000 nanometers—as “nanoplastics.”
It’s possible that nanoplastic particles might create a systemic inflammatory response, according to Phoebe Stapleton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Her research has previously shown that inhaled metal particles can harm the cardiovascular health of a developing fetus. And her animal research has also confirmed that when a mother breathes in nanoplastics, the particles can be found in many places inside the fetus. “We know that after exposure, the plastic particles are everywhere we look,” Stapleton says. “We don’t know yet what those particles are doing once they’re deposited there.” Other researchers, like Myers at Environmental Health Sciences, are concerned that nanoplastics could possibly release harmful chemicals (such as BPA) into our bodies.
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(Source: Consumer Reports- 5-5-2020)