A Study Found Microplastics in Every Single Human Placenta Tested

macro shot of a person with medical gloves and tweezers inspecting a pile of micro plastics concept of water pollution and global warming
Study Found Microplastics in Every Placenta TestedSvetlozar Hristov - Getty Images
  • Researchers found microplastics in every single placenta tested during a study.

  • The adverse health impacts of nano- and microplastics is not fully known, but research is emerging that shows the damage these plastic chemicals can have on human cells and tissue.

  • The spreading reach of microplastics in nature—from drinking water to our human bodies—makes them unavoidable.

Forget dodging nano- and microplastics (NMPs). They’re everywhere—even, it turns out, in prenatal tissue.

A new study—led by a group of researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of New Mexico Health Sciences and published in Toxicological Sciences—puts any doubt of that to rest. Of 62 placenta samples tested in the research, the team found NMPs in all of them.

Every. Single. One.

“The exponential increase in global plastic usage has led to the emergence of nano- and microplastic pollution as a pressing environmental issue due to its implications for human and other mammalian health,” the authors wrote.

While the exact impact of plastic within humans isn’t fully known yet, researchers are starting to figure out some of the consequences. And they aren’t good. A study from the University of Rhode Island in 2023 used mice as an example. They found that microplastic exposure induced two major types of negative affects: behavioral changes akin to dementia in human, and alterations in liver and brain tissue immune markers. And things were worse for the older animals in the study.

So, it’s probably not a great sign that the team from New Mexico—partnering with the Baylor College of Medicine and Oklahoma State University—located NMPs in all 62 placenta samples they tested. To study the placentas, the team developed a way to extract solid materials from human tissue samples and then pinpoint plastics. The team looked at the tissue by using a centrifuge to separate solid materials from the tissue, and created techniques to isolate the plastic particles and determine their chemical makeup.

In the process, dubbed pyrolysis, they placed plastic pellets in a metal cup and heated it to capture the gas emissions. With different types of plastic combusting at specific temperatures, the emissions offer a “fingerprint” of each plastic type.

“This method, paired with clinical metadata, will be pivotal to evaluating potential impacts of NMPs on adverse pregnancy outcomes,” the authors wrote.

Polyethylene proved to be the most prevalent plastic, accounting for roughly 54 percent of all plastics located. It was present in nearly all the samples. Polyethylene is the most used plastic on Earth, key to making water bottles, packing materials, and bags. Polyvinyl chloride and nylon were the heaviest, each making up about 10 percent of the total weight of NMP pollution.

The tested samples showed concentrations ranging from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue—small numbers, but large enough to make the amount “poison” in the eyes of toxicologists. “If the dose keeps going up, we start to worry,” study lead Matthew Campen said in a statement.

He added that the levels of NMPs found in an eight-month-old placenta amount to just a fraction of what we could see build up over decades in humans. “Organs of your body are accumulating over much longer period of time,” he said. “It’s only getting worse, and the trajectory is it will double every 10 to 15 years. So, even if we were to stop today, in 2050 there will be three times as much plastic in the background as there is now. And we’re not going to stop it today.”

Multiple studies show that not only do NMPs have their own chemical makeup that can prove detrimental to the human body, but they can serve as a medium for other toxic substances, with many of the potential chemicals linked to everything from insulin resistance and weight gain to decreased reproductive health and cancer.

NMPs come ubiquitous in the world. Found from the highest mountain points on Earth to the depths of our oceans, the plastics fill more than placentas. Research showes NMPs present in human blood, breast milk, drinking water, food, and even the air we breathe.

“If we are seeing effects on placentas, then all mammalian life on this planet could be impacted,” Campen said. “That’s not good.”

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