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Breaking news: Microplastics penetrate organs quickly

Amsterdam, 11 December 2018 – The threat of microplastics to our health and that of animals is probably far larger than we realized up to now. For the first time ever, research has shown that nanoparticles are quickly absorbed by marine organisms, in this case the king scallop (Pecten maximus). Previous lab studies were performed with far larger concentrations, but this time realistic conditions were taken into account, namely the concentration of nanoplastics that can be expected in the marine environment. The international research appeared in Environmental Science & Technology.

The researchers developed a new measuring method and even fabricated detectable nanoplastics (carbon radiolabeled nanopolystyrene). The results are truly alarming.

  • Within six hours billions of microplastics (of 250 nanometers, approx. 0.00025 mm) penetrate the tissue of the marine organisms.
  • Within a few hours even smaller particles (20 nanometers, approx. 0.00002 mm) permeate organs such as the liver, gills and muscles. These smaller particles also enter the bloodstream.
  • While the particles spread, toxic substances also spread through the body.
  • It took weeks after the animals had been transferred to clean water for all the plastics to leave the body. The 20 nanometer-particles could no longer be detected after two weeks.

King scallops (St James shell, great scallop) are a well-loved food. The Netherlands Nutrition Centre recommend shellfish and crustaceans as a healthy choice. This recommendation does not yet take this new scientific insight into account.

Photo: Scan of nanoplastics, Plymouth University, UK