Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta

by AntonioRagusa, AlessandroSvelato, CriseldaSantacroce, et al

Environment International, January 2021;146(106274)  (Open access)

Microplastics are particles smaller than five millimeters deriving from the degradation of plastic objects present in the environment. Microplastics can move from the environment to living organisms, including mammals. In this study, six human placentas, collected from consenting women with physiological pregnancies, were analyzed by Raman Microspectroscopy to evaluate the presence of microplastics. In total, 12 microplastic fragments (ranging from 5 to 10 μm in size), with spheric or irregular shape were found in 4 placentas (5 in the fetal side, 4 in the maternal side and 3 in the chorioamniotic membranes); all microplastics particles were characterized in terms of morphology and chemical composition. All of them were pigmented; three were identified as stained polypropylene a thermoplastic polymer, while for the other nine it was possible to identify only the pigments, which were all used for man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products.

Further from the main text:

  • Microplastics are particles smaller than five millimeters deriving from the degradation of plastic objects present in the environment. Microplastics can move from the environment to living organisms.
  • In the last century, the global production of plastics has reached 320 million tons (Mt) per year, and over 40% is used as single-use packaging, hence producing plastic waste. In Europe, plastic production reached the 58 millions of tons in 2014 (PlasticsEurope, 2016). The degradation that plastics undergo when released into the environment is a serious issue.
  • Atmospheric agents, such as waves, abrasion, ultraviolet radiation and photo-oxidation in combination with bacteria degrade plastic fragments into micro and nano-sized particles. Most of the seabed all over the world and in the Mediterranean Sea in particular, is made of plastic, resulting from the waste collected on the coasts and in the sea (de Souza Machado et al, 2018).
  • Microplastics carry with them substances which, acting as endocrine disruptors, could cause long-term effects on human health.
  • In conclusion, this study sheds new light on the level of human exposure to MPs and microparticles in general. Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus development and in acting as an interface between the latter and the external environment, the presence of exogenous and potentially harmful (plastic) particles is a matter of great concern. Possible consequences on pregnancy outcomes and foetus are the transgenerational effects of plasticizer on metabolism and reproduction (Lee, 2018). Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of MPs in human placenta may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants, resulting harmful for pregnancy.


Addendum: Increase in plastic waste in 2020
“As the world grapples with Covid-19, Thailand faces an avalanche of plastic and mask waste that is an example of the impact the pandemic has had on the environment. During April and May 2020, when there were more coronavirus-related restrictions in the country, there were hardly any vehicles on the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities, except for motorbikes belonging to home delivery companies such as GrabFood, Line Man and Foodpanda. These companies have flourished during the pandemic and will continue doing well, with many having got accustomed to ordering food at home. But the cost of that has been an up to 60% increase in plastic waste in April alone. Besides, 1.5 to 2 million masks are used daily throughout the country and many people do not dispose of them in special red bins designed for hazardous waste but mix them up with other types of garbage…”

SOURCE: Laprensalatina.com, by Gaspar Ruiz-Canela, 4 June 2020 ; PHOTO: The Thaiger, 6-3-19