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expert reaction to study looking at microplastics in the blood

A study published in Environment International looks at the discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood.


Dr Alice Horton, Anthropogenic Contaminants Scientist, National Oceanography Centre, said:

“This is a highly novel study and the first to detect microplastics in human blood. Despite the low sample numbers and low concentrations detected, the analytical methods used are very robust and these data therefore unequivocally evidence the presence of microplastics and/or nanoplastics in blood samples. This is a concerning finding given that particles of this size have been demonstrated in the lab to cause inflammation and cell damage under experimental conditions1,2,3. This study contributes to the evidence that plastic particles have not just pervaded throughout the environment, but are pervading our bodies too. The long-term consequences of this are not yet known.” 

  1. Goodman, K. E., Hare, J. T., Khamis, Z. I., Hua, T., & Sang, Q. X. A. (2021). Exposure of human lung cells to polystyrene microplastics significantly retards cell proliferation and triggers morphological changes. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 34(4), 1069-1081.
  1. Hwang, J., Choi, D., Han, S., Choi, J., & Hong, J. (2019). An assessment of the toxicity of polypropylene microplastics in human derived cells. Science of the Total Environment, 684, 657-669.
  1. Wu, B., Wu, X., Liu, S., Wang, Z., & Chen, L. (2019). Size-dependent effects of polystyrene microplastics on cytotoxicity and efflux pump inhibition in human Caco-2 cells. Chemosphere, 221, 333-341.


Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Pollution, University of Portsmouth, said:

“This is an extremely interesting study. The paper is actually a method paper to show that it is possible to determine plastic in blood, and how to do it. They have then gone on to show data using this method from 22 individuals. Previously there have been doubts about the reliability of data from pathology/clinical samples due to the lack of procedural blanks, where it is thought there has likely been contamination of samples through plastics in air or from equipment. This research has taken a serious look at that issue and addressed it in a number of ways, by taking a large number of blank samples and including recovery data. This gives a lot of credibility to the data and I would say the data given is robust and will stand up to scrutiny.

“Limitations to the paper are that it is only a sample from 22 people and there is no data on what exposure levels those individuals may have had. As indicated in the paper itself, extrapolation to proportions of all humans likely to have this quantity of plastic in their blood is somewhat premature. However, considering the diligence of the authors in their experimental design and the data from others looking at microplastics in humans and animals (placenta, liver, kidneys), it is sensible to be asking questions about what the health consequences of this might be. The methods used here also only give a total value in weight of plastic, not the size and number of particles, which will be needed in the future as those are important in working out health implications. Despite this, the ability to detect its presence is critical to us realising the urgency in our need to do more research in this area. After all blood links all the organs of our body and if plastic is there, it could be anywhere in us.” 



Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood’ by Heather Leslie et al was published in Environment International on Thursday 24th March 2022.



Declared interests

Dr Fay Couceiro: “I have no relationship with the authors of this paper or the commissioning group. I do work in the field of microplastics and have a scholarly interest in their impacts on humans, for example I am looking at inhalation of microplastics from indoor air.”


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