Plastic particles are ubiquitous pollutants in the living environment and food chain but no study to date has reported on the internal exposure of plastic particles in human blood. 

Now, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands and Amsterdam University Medical Center have published research in Environment International detecting and quantifying polymers from plastics in human blood for the first time.

The 22 anonymous blood donors were healthy adults from the general public, and the scientists found microplastic pollution in almost 80% of the people tested, with polymers representing several high production volume plastics: Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made.

This pioneering human biomonitoring study demonstrated that plastic particles are bioavailable for uptake into the human bloodstream. An understanding of the exposure of these substances in humans and the associated hazard of such exposure is needed to determine whether or not plastic particle exposure is a public health risk.

The topic of microplastics finds its way more and more into the public discourse, as shown by this research being extensively reported on in The Guardian: “Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – ​it’s a breakthrough result,” said Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.” Further studies by a number of groups are already under way, he said.  

This work is being continued through the EU research projects POLYRISK and AURORA.

Environment International 

Funded by the Dutch National Organisation for Health Research and Development and Common Seas