What science knows about the impact of plastic on health

The tide of plastic pellets on the Cantabrian coast as a result of the spill from the Toconao ship has sparked countless reactions about its impact on human health from politics and the economic sector, but what do those who really tell us? Have they done scientific studies and verifications?

Science demonstrated decades ago that the plastic that ends up in the environment, such as the 26.2 tons of Toconao pellets or the plastic that contains or wraps our food or drinks, ends up penetrating the human body and, with it, the toxins that it contains. may contain.

A report from the University of A Coruña has identified up to 14 toxic elements in pellet samples collected on a beach in Muxía.

Scientists have divided the plastic particles found in almost all organs, tissues and membranes of the human body into two types: microplastics (less than 5 millimeters) and nanoplastics (with diameters less than 0.001 millimeters).

Although according to the pace of scientific knowledge, the impact of plastic on health is still a field where almost everything remains to be discovered, these are some of the key pieces of evidence:

In placentas and breast milk

Many babies ingest microplastics since they are forming in the mother’s womb, and/or drink them in breast milk, as demonstrated by two successive investigations by a group of Italian scientists specialized in the matter from the hospitals of Fatebenefratelli (Rome) and Bolognini. (Bergamo), and the universities of Ancona and Pavia.

The first, published in 2020, found microplastics in the placentas of six healthy women between the ages of 18 and 40 and with normal pregnancies through a study of the chemical composition and molecular structure of blood.

The second, from 2022, found microplastics in 75% of breast milk samples analyzed in 34 healthy first-time mothers.
They flow through the bloodstream

Also in 2022, a Dutch research project (Immunoplast) became the first to demonstrate that the bloodstream, a kind of ‘river of life’ of the human body, contains micro- and nanoplastic particles.

Blood samples from 18 of 22 anonymous donors participating in the study contained plastic, which, in the opinion of the researchers who developed a specific analytical method to discover it, Heather Leslie and Marja Lamoree, indicates that we are facing a “health threat.” public.”

In the depths of the lung

Another group of researchers from the British University of Hull, in York, confirmed the presence of microplastic particles in very deep sections of the lung in living patients undergoing surgical procedures.

Of 13 patients studied, 11 carried microplastics in their lungs of up to 39 different types, the most common being pieces of PET used to make beverage bottles; polypropylene, used for plastic containers and pipes; and resin, often used as an adhesive or sealant.

They trick the brain

Its presence in the bloodstream was the key clue that led scientists to reveal its ability to ‘outwit’ the brain’s safety control – the blood-brain barrier – and cause a state of continuous inflammation similar to that created by degenerative diseases. , such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers had to resort to experiments in laboratory models – test tubes, cultured neurons and mouse models with Parkinson’s – to verify the alterations caused by nanoplastics in the brain – where they arrive just two hours after being ingested – and observe the similarity with neurodegenerative diseases.

Cognitive problems

For its part, the team from the Health Research Institute (IBS) of Granada, which has been studying the impact of Bisphenol A for almost 30 years, has associated high levels of this contaminant, present in many of the plastic utensils of daily use, in children from 9 to 11 years old with thinking and behavioral problems evident in adolescence.

IBS also tracks the impact of Bisphenol A on the immune system, metabolism or increased risk of cancer or behavioral changes.

They alter intestinal balance

Researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) also corroborated in 2022 that the digestion of microplastics decreases the amount of beneficial bacteria present in the colon.

“Given the possible chronic exposure to these particles through our diet, the results obtained suggest that their continued intake could alter intestinal balance and, therefore, health,” the researchers stressed.


Science has also proven that there are plastic particles in other organs such as the liver, spleen or kidneys, and closely monitors their influence on fertility problems and ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or cancer.

Just a few months ago, a group of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona reviewed the scientific literature on the potential of microplastics and nanoplastics to induce cancer in the long term.

“The majority of the 28 works analyzed suggested that these contaminants are capable of inducing effects related to the development of cancer in humans,” the researchers concluded.

By Muhammad Hussain