Plastics Have Entered Human Food Chain, Study Shows

Paris: Bits of plastic have been detected in the faeces of people in Europe, Russia and Japan, according to research claiming to show for the first time the widespread presence of plastics in the human food chain.

All eight volunteers in a small pilot study were found to have passed several types of plastic, with an average of 20 micro-particles per 10 grams of stool, researchers reported Tuesday at a gastroenterology congress in Vienna.

The scientists speculated that the tiny specks -- ranging in size from 50 to 500 micrometres -- may been ingested via seafood, food wrapping, dust or plastic bottles.

A human hair is roughly 50 to 100 micrometres in width.

"In our laboratory, we were able to detect nine different types of plastics," said Bettina Liebmann, a researcher at the Federal Environment Agency, which analysed the samples. 

The two most common were polypropylene -- found in bottle caps, rope and strapping -- and polyethylene, present in drinking bottles and textile fibres.

Together with polystyrene (utensils, cups, coolers) and polyethylene (plastic bags), they accounted for more than 95 percent of the particles detected.

"We were unable to establish a reliable connection between nutritional behaviour and exposure to microplastics," said lead author Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna.

In earlier studies on animals, the highest concentrations of microplastics were found in the stomach and intestines, but smaller amounts have also been detected in blood, lymph and the liver.

"There are initial indications that microplastics can damage the gastrointestinal tract by promoting inflammatory reactions or absorbing harmful substances," Schwabl said.

"Further studies are needed to assess the potential dangers of microplastics for humans."

Schwabl recruited five women and three men, aged 33 to 65, in Finland, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Japan and Austria.

Each kept a week-long log of what they ate, and then provided a stool sample.

All consumed foods wrapped in plastic and beverages in plastic bottles, and six ate seafood. None were vegetarians.

Health impacts unknown

Scientists not involved in the study said it was too limited in scope to draw any firm conclusions, especially about health impacts.

"I'm not at all surprised, or particularly worried by these findings," commented Alistair Boxall, a professor in environmental science at the University of York in Britain.

"Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue, and even in beer," he added. "It is therefore inevitable that at least some of these things will get into our lungs and digestive system."

Much more research is needed, he said, before we can determine the origin of plastics found in the gut, and especially whether they are harmful.

For Stephanie Wright, a researcher at King's College London, the real question is whether plastics are accumulating in the human body.

"What is unknown is whether the concentration of plastic being ingested is higher than that coming out, due to particles crossing the gut wall," she said. 

"There is no published evidence to indicate what the health effects might be."

Global plastic production has grown rapidly, and is currently more than 400 million tonnes per year. 

It is estimated that two to five percent of plastics wind up in the ocean, where much of it breaks down into tiny particles.

Plastics Likely to Drive Global Oil Demand Until 2050: IEA

Despite the growing consumption of renewable energy sources, oil will still remain prominent in the marketplace.

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that petrochemical productions are likely to trigger the growth of oil demand over the next 20 years.

RELATED: Venezuela Formalizes its Oil-Backed Crypto Currency, Petro

According to the agency report, which was released late last week, petrochemicals will be one of the single most important factors in oil demand in the coming years. Despite the growing consumption of renewable energy sources, oil will still remain prominent in the marketplace.

"When we discuss oil demand, peak oil demand (and) oil market dynamics, the focus is solely on cars — which is completely wrong," IEA executive director Fatih Birol told CNBC during an interview Monday.

The IEA reports that petrochemicals will contribute to over 30 percent of global oil demand in the next ten years and at least 50 percent by 2050.

At least 12 million barrels per day (bdp) accounted for the creation of plastic and similar products last year alone. The forecast will considerably benefit oil-rich nations around the globe, particularly countries like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

However, the report warned that Europe, Japan, and Korea may fall behind while developing economies like those in India and China surge forward in incredible financial bounds in plastic production.

“Of course the measures to make (petrochemicals) sustainable can dent this growth but we have no doubt whatsoever that petrochemicals will be the single most important driver of oil demand for many years to come,” Birol said.

The news bodes well for economies reliant on their oil output, such as Venezuela which has struggled since the early 2000’s to regain its footing and is currently attempting to stabilize its country on international oil trade agreements with China, Singapore, India, Switzerland, per the latest reports.

  • Published in World
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