This is part 2 in a series of articles in connection with our upcoming Plastic Health Summit. On October 21, we are hosting speakers from around the world in Amsterdam; these speakers will look at the plastic issue from a variety of angles, including health, environment, criminal justice, human rights, EU policy, and activism. Today: airborne pollution.
12 October 2021
I open the curtains at home and a ray of sunlight shines all the way to my sofa, revealing tiny floating particles I have seen hundreds of times. I never really paid much attention to them, until I started learning about what floats in the air around us.
In 2019, during the first-ever Plastic Health Summit, researcher Fransien van Dijk from the University of Groningen presented her team’s work on the effect of synthetic microfibres on our lungs. She mentioned that an average household generates about twenty kilos of domestic dust a year; it is estimated that six kilos of this dust consist of microplastics.
Those microplastics come from our clothes and our furniture. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, because almost 70% of the clothes manufactured by fashion brands are made of plastic. Some of the culprits: polyester, polyamide, nylon, acrylic. I’m sure they’ll sound familiar to you. Also, our upholstery – sofas, curtains, and carpets – are made of these popular materials.
When these items are made, worn, or washed, they release tiny microplastic fibers into the air and the water. But why should that worry us? Well, we are inhaling them, and they have been found in our lungs.
We are inhaling our clothes and furniture
Research has shown that when we inhale microplastic fibers from our clothes or furniture, they may stay in our lungs for a long time and cause inflammation. This could lead to many harmful effects on our health. One example that researchers have used to better understand the effect of these tiny fibers on our lungs is to compare it to asbestos: there is proof that these particles damage lung tissues, leading to diseases and conditions like cancer or asthma attacks.
During one of our broadcasts of the Plastic Health Channel, researcher Barbro Melgert explained that synthetic fibers in textiles make it more difficult for the lungs to recover. She warns that this will particularly affect people with COVID-19 and children, whose lungs are recovering or still developing.
House dust is a mix of skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic. Airborne pollution, also known as the release of pollutants into the air, consists of particulates, biological molecules, or other harmful materials that exist in the atmosphere.
Our health is at stake
So how is all this affecting my health? And why is this not addressed more publicly when it affects the entire world population? These are the questions that rummage my brain as we prepare for this year’s edition of the Plastic Health Summit. Dr. Raymond Pieters is one of the speakers invited to give a presentation on his latest research on airborne pollution and how it affects our immune system. Hopefully, he will shed some light on these burning questions.
And who is responsible for putting my health and the health of the kids around me at risk? And how can we, regular consumers, do something about it? I personally feel frustrated that as consumers we are given these products and then we are left to take care of the consequences of using them.
Now, every time I see those particles floating through that ray of sunlight, I think of how we need to make the world better for the next generations to come. Our health should not be at stake!
By Laura Díaz Sánchez
See also: The invisible threat: microplastics from your clothes
Do you want to be there?