Plastic also flows through our veins


On 2022 World Health Day, Surfrider Europe is raising awareness on the presence of plastic, even down into our blood and calls for the adoption of precautionary measures to prevent risks to human health.

In the form of micro- and nano- particles, plastic carries and releases toxic chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, polluting our bodies as much as the Ocean.

Life in plastic, it’s not fantastic

For the first time, as also announced a few weeks ago by our partners from the Break Free From Plastic movement, Common Seas, a scientific study provides evidence that microplastics can be found in our blood. Some samples contained up to two or three different types of plastics: PET plastic, commonly used in bottles, polystyrene for food packaging or polyethylene found in hard plastic containers like Tupperware.

For the moment, no final conclusions can be drawn from the study regarding the direct consequences on health of this undesired plastic presence in our organism. However, previous studies already pointed out the harmful effects of microplastics on our cells. The main source of this contamination is our food, causing a strong inflammatory effect on our intestines.

On average, we would ingest 5g of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card. From our food chain to our organism, plastic and the associated toxic chemicals it carries find their way in every aspect of our lives. The presence of a dozen plastic particles in organs such as the placenta is an indication of the extent of this pollution impacting our lives from their very beginnings. These microplastics can lead to a reduction in fetal growth and cause poor immune system responses.

" We are overexposed to plastic and its toxic additives. In addition to being the raw material for most of our everyday objects, we eat, drink and breathe microplastics. The greater the exposure to microplastics, the greater the risks to our health. “- Cristina Barreau, Marine Litter Coordinator.  

The risks of plastic

Many toxic additives known as “of high concern” (which means they may pose a risk to human health) are used in the manufacturing of daily plastic items : flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, phthalates, bisphenols and nonylphenols. Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors.

According to the study Plastic’s toxic additives and the circular economy : "Human health consequences of endocrine disrupting chemicals commonly used in plastics include thyroid function disruption, reproductive impacts, obesity, immune system, increased damage, increased cancer risk and impacts on brain and neurological development.

Moreover, we don’t know yet all the reactions to mixtures of chemical substances in the body, referred to as " the cocktail effect". Two isolated substances might be harmless, but once mixed they can prove to be harmful to health. Likewise, we don’t know the exposure level to additives that can become dangerous. A chemical substance might be harmless at low levels of exposure, but it is still impossible to determine our level of exposure to these substances and the cumulated effects. 

This is why Surfrider Europe calls for the precautionary principle to be fully respected and for the adoption of European measures that enforce its implementation. 

"It is therefore urgent to adopt preventive measures enshrined in law now, to treat the causes, rather than endlessly search for the multiple effects of plastic pollution. We do not know yet all the consequences of the presence of these foreign particles in our bodies, nor the long-term effects of this daily exposure to microplastics, but we know enough to act and legislate." Cristina Barreau, Marine Litter Coordinator

Better safe than sorry

Plastic production is rapidly increasing and is expected to double by 2040. We should act quickly to tackle at its source plastic pollution by limiting our production and consumption. 

Every year, 12 million tons of plastics end up in the Ocean. We already know the devastating consequences on marine fauna: 90% of sea birds are estimated to have plastic fragments in their stomachs.

We might not know yet all the long-term effects of plastic, however, plastic and its components were never proven to be harmless. Nevertheless, we have now evidence that microscopic particles flow through our veins, therefore it is essential to apply the precautionary principle. We must limit as much as possible our exposure to plastic to reduce its impacts on human health. This requires legislation (now under discussion at the EU level) to ban micro- and nano- particles of plastics intentionally added in our daily products and prevent so called non intentionally released microplastics which derive from items.

To contribute to this work and ask for urgent measures, you are welcomed to answer, until May 17, to the European consultation on this topic 

Furthermore, a drastic reduction of plastic food and beverage packaging and containers is needed and can be adopted in a revised EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste which review process will be initiated this year by the European Commission. In addition to being a significant source of pollution for the ocean, these plastics are in direct contact with our food and therefore with our body.

Protect yourself, say no to plastic !

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