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Microplastics detected in human blood

Plastic items collected from a beach in North East England (UK).

Plasma, red blood cells, platelets… and microplastics. This is what circulates in our veins, according to an unpublished study published Thursday, March 24 in the journal Environment International. Studies documenting the presence of micro and nanoparticles in water, air, food and even in our stools are increasing. But this is the first time that these pollutants from human activity have been detected in the fluid that irrigates our entire body.

“We knew from animal studies that microplastics were able to pass certain epithelial barriers such as the intestinal wall, and they have also already been detected in the human placenta, recalls Xavier Coumoul, professor of biochemistry and toxicology at the University of Paris and director of the MetaTox team at Inserm, who did not participate in the study. The presence of microplastics in the bloodstream of human beings therefore does not surprise me that much… but the fact of demonstrating it scientifically is important! »

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All the more important as “here, we are clearly on an environmental exhibition”, underlines the researcher. Because the analyzes of Heather Leslie, ecotoxicologist at the Free University of Amsterdam, and her colleagues, were carried out under real-life conditions, in 22 healthy voluntary donors. Their blood was collected in glass tubes to avoid any artefacts linked to external contamination.

“Not negligible” doses

In the viewfinder of the researchers, five polymers commonly used in everyday plastics, such as food containers, bottles or textiles: polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and styrene-based polymers such as polystyrene (PS). “We weren’t sure what to expect, because even though it’s been shown that we inhale and ingest plastic, the particles have to be really tiny in order to pass into the bloodstream,” relates Heather Leslie, emphasizing the technical challenge of finding these microparticles in a tissue as complex as blood.

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The result is puzzling. Almost all of the participants, 21 out of 22, had detectable levels of at least one of the polymers they were looking for in their blood – even if the concentrations were sometimes close to the detection limits. Their quantification was possible in 17 of the donors, i.e. more than three quarters, revealing an average level of plastic particles of 1.6 µg/mL of blood.

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