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The first evidence of health risks from micro and nano plastics

Amsterdam, 8 October 2019 – During the Plastic Health Summit on 3 October, scientists presented the first research results on the effects of plastic particles on human health. They also expressed their views on how the precautionary principle relates to their findings. Some say that more research is needed first, others say that there are enough early warnings and that we cannot wait to take action until all the risks have been examined in detail.

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ZonMw

The presented preliminary research results show that immune cells attack microplastics, and that they end up dying, that the growth of the airways is hindered by nylon fibers and that microplastics probably penetrate the placenta. These are the results of laboratory tests in which high concentrations are used. The studies expose previously unobserved mechanisms, without being able to determine the extent to which these mechanisms currently occur in our bodies. Earlier this year, the Dutch financer of health research ZonMw made 1.6 million euro available for fifteen short-term studies. The most pressing, but never previously investigated, questions were aimed to be answered by these studies.

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Explanations

At the end of the Plastic Health Summit, ZonMw stated that the importance of the studies was so great that 1 million euros of extra research money were made available. The scientists were served at their beck and call. In a read-out joint statement, they argue for more (follow-up) research to better understand the consequences of microplastics on our health.

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Measures already needed

Some ZonMw researchers kept a low profile as to whether their investigation was a reason to take action. Fransien van Dijk (University of Groningen) advises citizens to ventilate their well-insulated homes often and also to vacuum more often so that we inhale less plastic fibers in our homes. Heather Leslie (Vrije Universiteit) characterized the research results as early warnings, alarm bells, which now justify social intervention in the light of increasing plastic production. After all, the concentration of microplastics in the environment and therefore likely in our bodies is increasing exponentially. The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes to turn the tide.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘Perhaps the most important result of the Plastic Health Summit, is that nobody can any longer deny the potential danger of microplastics to our health’.

 

Read also – ‘New evidence points to microplastics’ toxic impact on the human body’ , an article in Geographical Magazine

Read also – ‘Microplastics harm human health, warn experts‘, an article in Food Manufacture

See here the broadcast of Radar of 7 October with Maria Westerbos.

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Better recycling of synthetic mattresses is half-baked solution

Amsterdam, 21 August 2019 – In the Netherlands, 1.2 million mattresses per year are placed at the side of the road as large household waste. Two thirds of these, a few hundred million kilos, are burned. Nearly all those mattresses consist of synthetic materials. If by mid-2019 no meaningful steps have been taken by the sector to reduce this mountain of waste, the government will take legal measures in the form of a mandatory manufacturer responsibility. The majority of the sector opt for recycling. This, however, is a half-baked solution. The real solution is the plastic-free mattress. 

Recycling initiatives

Presently, about 15% of the mattresses are now disassembled and processed, the rest are burned. The mattress industry has the objective to increase the percentage of processed mattresses. Various recycling initiatives have already come into being. Auping and DSM-Niaga have developed a circular mattress. Elements of that mattress are easy to separate and can then be used in new mattresses. In collaboration with waste processor Renewi, IKEA has been investing in the recycling of mattresses. RetourMatras recycles mattresses and reuses more than 90% of the materials. Mattress Recycling Europe collects discarded mattresses in municipalities. These are first placed on collecting carts and are then brought to a processing line.

Harmful substances

Synthetic mattresses contain harmful substances that cannot be removed during the recycling process. Substances such as flame retardants and softening agents are held responsible for a range of diseases. For this reason, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 pointed to the health risks of the circular economy. In the national plan for endocrine disruptors in a circular economy presented last year, the Dutch foundation Wemos pleaded for a clean circular economy. The urgent advice is to avoid harmful substances at the design stage. For synthetic mattresses, however, this solution is an illusion. For instance, flame retardants are added intentionally, as plastics are particularly flammable.

Implementation programme

The government wants the use of raw materials to be halved in 2030 to eventually realise a waste-free economy. One of the ‘icon projects’ in the framework of the Implementation Programme Circular Economy entails improved reuse and design of mattresses. This project focuses on the recycling of discarded mattresses (95% in 2025) and a more durable design, so that in 2025 75% of new mattresses are easier to disassemble to reuse the materials. But circular mattress design should take into account the harmful substances. And the project is silent on precisely that issue.

The true circular mattress has already been in existence for a long time

The cabinet strives to burn significantly fewer mattresses, to recycle a much larger proportion of discarded mattresses, and to more mattresses being designed circularly. However, circular design is not defined. It mainly indicates modular design, so that a discarded mattress can easily be disassembled for usable parts. However, the icon project does not mention the truly circular mattress at all. That mattress simply exists already, is plastic-free and therefore free from harmful substances. This circular mattress consists exclusively of perfectly recyclable organic materials.

Baby mattresses

Especially the demand for organic baby mattresses has increased in recent years. Babies and small children are extra vulnerable to the harmful substances in synthetic mattresses. They sleep a lot and lie with their face directly on the mattress. The artisan company Lavital produces mattresses for adults that consist entirely of natural raw materials, and now also makes mattresses for cots.

Lavital has become a business angel of the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF). The company donates part of the proceeds of sold children’s mattresses to the PSF (fill in code ‘ PSF ‘ when ordering the baby mattress).

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘It is very important that companies like Lavital show that you do not have to sleep on plastic with harmful additives. Paricularly babies deserve to make a good start. We are super proud that Lavital has become one of our business angels. ‘


Also read – Plasticers in plastic slow down baby’s language development

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Plastic in your body: emphasis on size rather than weight

Amsterdam, 13 June 2019 – It is well known that we drink, eat and breathe plastic particles. But how many are there and how harmful it is for our health? This week the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a study and comes up with new information. The main conclusion in the publication No plastic in nature: assessing plastic ingestion from nature to people is that we may ingest 5 grams of plastic per week, as much as the weight of a credit card. The researchers base their conclusions on existing studies and rightly express many reservations.

 New WWF campaign

The report, which calls on Governments to take drastic action to fight the plastic soup and also advocates that much more research needs to be done, is accompanied by a new campaign launched by the WWF. The campaign has the shocking weekly amount of 5 grams of plastic that a person ingests as its theme. This is compared to daily objects such as a pen, a credit card or a dice, to get the message across how much plastic you ingest. Although this campaign will reach a wide audience, some nuance is called for.

Emphasis on weight says little

The research was carried out by the University of Newcastle in Australia. For their calculation researchers estimated the weight of the plastic particles. They take as their starting point an estimated weekly ingestion of 2000 plastic particles, a total weight of 5 grams. We are assumed to ingest about 90% through drinking water, through tap water and in particular through bottles of water. A study that was published last year (and to which the researchers also refer), found microplastics in 93% of the 259 bottles of mineral water that were studied, an average of 325 particles per litre. However, the vast majority— 315 particles — are ultra-small particles. So small that their weight cannot be determined.  Earlier this week, also a Canadian study on Human Consumption or Microplastics was published. According to this research the annual ingestion is 50,000 particles. These too are ultra-small particles that weigh virtually nothing.

Emphasis should be on size

Precisely those ultra-small particles, called nanoplastics, are most relevant for human health. More accurately: the particles that are almost insignificant in weight, are probably the most harmful. These can penetrate cell membranes and make their way into the organs. Larger particles, of which the weight can be determined, are usually defecated. It must be noted that there are still no standard methods to assess the risks of micro- and nanoplastics in the body.

Plastic Health Coalition

To find out how dangerous micro- and nanoplastics really are, the Plastic Soup Foundation has initiated a partnership in which scientists and environmental organisations work together: The Plastic Health Coalition. Earlier this year, ZonMW, The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, started fifteen studies into the effects of micro-and nanoplastics in this framework. On 3 October 2019, during the Plastic Health Summit, the first results are to be presented.


Also read:

ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Mopping up with the plastic-soup tap left open….

Recycling. A word that makes me happy. Like the swoosh-swoosh-swoosh of the skipping rope as pretty young girls in their light summer frocks jump up and down on a glorious sunny day. The effortless movement that seems able to go on for ever, Leonardo da Vinci’s perpetual motion machine. Recycling sounds like healthy, economical and sensible. Something which everybody would support and to which nobody could object.

If I think of recycling, I think of pumpkin peel, broccoli stumps and all the other vegetable scraps that are left over in my kitchen: I drop it in the recycling bin and later on I buy it back as compost to pamper my garden. I think of my cupboards, too small to offer sanctuary to everything which I wanted to save. It’s all languishing in the second-hand shop now, waiting to start a new life in a new collection tomorrow. Nothing but praise for recycling.

Initially, recycling plastic also sounded like music to my ears. It sounded to me like a happy solution for the devilish problem of the plastic that has been taking a continually stronger grasp on our world: the plastic bottles, bags, chairs – what isn’t made of plastic these days? – that ends up as litter on our streets and in our rivers, flowing to the sea where it – disintegrating to ever-smaller pieces – chokes the stomachs of unfortunate birds and fish. Or the plastic microfibers that float through the air and threaten our health. Recycling seemed a decisive step in the battle against that kind of misery.

Until I started looking at the figures.

The amount of newly-produced, un-recycled plastic in the world is growing at a tremendous rate. An additional 380 billion tons in 2018, within 10 years that means 530 billion tons of plastic per year. Exactly how much ends up as litter – in the fields, in the water or in the air – is not known, at least 16 billion kilos per year, maybe a lot more. Large multinational companies argue that all their plastic packaging will use recycled raw materials by 2025. That sounds impossible to achieve, but apart from that: it’s still plastic packaging. And a percentage of that will still end up in the ocean, the “lungs” of the word. Or in our own lungs.

Now, if I think of plastic recycling, I no longer think of girls having fun with their skipping rope, but of poor wretches mopping up the mess while the plastic soup continues to gush from the open tap. A PET bottle made of recycled plastic may use less petroleum to produce than a bottle made of new plastic – and that’s good – but we will not solve The Big Plastic Problem by migrating to recycled plastic.

The only real solution has the simplicity of a light summer frock: bring less plastic products to market. As a start: no more single-use plastics, like PET bottles and plastic bags. And the plastic that does still reach the shelves: collect it efficiently, for example with a deposit scheme.

Surrounded as we are by so many clever people in this world, surely we can start this movement without too much trouble?

Swoosh…….Swoosh……..Swoosh……..

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My plastic diary

Seven o’clock, and there’s an icy storm blowing outside. My warm fleece jumper is covered in cat’s hairs, so I give it a good shake. Plastic microfibers fly all over the place. They get in to my lungs, and for all I know they settle in to the lung tissue. With dirt and all, as the jumper was not too clean. I’m glad I don’t have asthma.

It’s time to get blown away in the park on my morning walk. There’s an empty plastic chips tray floating in the pond. I fish it out and throw it in the rubbish bin. Some viruses and bacteria feel very much at home on plastic, more so than in the wild. I bet they have now hitched a lift on the tiny scraps of plastic that have stayed behind on my fingertips.

A little later, I’m struggling through a complicated report. I can’t seem to concentrate. Is that lack of caffeine, or is my brain full of plastic as well? I wash that last thought away with a big sip of cappuccino.

My tummy begins to rumble. Biological multigrain crackers, cheese and humus on the menu: all hygienically packed in plastic. My lunch has been surreptitiously seasoned with tiny pieces of nanoplastic. They end up in my intestines and who knows, maybe they pass through my intestinal wall in to my blood and lymphatic system. That doesn’t seem healthy: but maybe I will be well-preserved…..

I have a productive afternoon, typing away on my plastic keys, using my mobile in its nice plastic protective cover, making notes with my plastic pen. And then it’s time to clear my head with a run.  My comfy synthetic sports clothes leave minute plastic particles on my skin, so small that they might be able to worm their way in to my cells. I make way for a brand-new mother with a pram. Did her baby already feed on plastic in the womb, via the placenta and the umbilical cord? He looks quite normal….

The running clothes go straight in to the washing machine and the dryer, so that they are nice and fresh for tomorrow.  As soon as I open the door of the dryer, another cloud of microfibers makes a beeline for my lungs.

Hubby is in the kitchen, stirring mussels and fish through the paella. They, of course, have been eating from the plastic soup in the ocean. The plastic has been accumulating in their fishy bodies, and will now move in to mine. When I go to bed later for a well-earned sleep, illegal micro- and nanoplastics may be pioneering their way through my body. If that is indeed the case, then I hope that my immune system will arrest them and throw them out, just as it would with other foreign bodies: although it’s not known whether that actually works with plastic.

Tomorrow, seven o’clock, a new plastic day begins. A new round of breathing, eating and drinking plastic. Fifteen researchers are going to investigate what that has been doing to my health. That’s both good and bad news. I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle, but for certainty’s sake I should maybe start a plastic diet…….

 

Renske Postma

 

Photo by Jeroen Gosse

 

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ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Amsterdam, 7 March 2019– Every day we inhale and ingest microplastics through the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Do these microplastics then find their way to our brains or into the amniotic fluid of our unborn children? Do the particles affect our intestinal bacteria and lung cells? Or affect our immunity system? Countless questions about the possible health risks of plastic have not yet been answered. But this may change this year.

ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research, made known today that it is subsidising fifteen short research projects into the most burning questions. In total, with additional contributions by the NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it will make an amount of 1.6 million euros available for this purpose.

As the communications partner, the Plastic Soup Foundation will publish the results on its new Plastic Health Platform.

Maria signs collaboration agreementmst met ZonMW

Scientific research into potentially dangerous consequences of microplastics and nanoplastics on the level of the cells in organs is still in the starting blocks. Because ever more alarm bells are ringing about the health risks of plastic, this new scientific research is more urgent than ever. With the ZonMw research, the Netherlands is positioning itself as one of the worldwide leaders.

Frank Pierik, Programme Manager ZonMw says “We are happy that the first projects in the Microplastics & Health programme can start. There is still very little known. This series of short projects will shed light and pave the way for more structured research into the health effects of microplastics.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, adds to this. “We are proud that we have reached this stage. While we do not know for certain, plastic, and in particular microplastics and nanoplastics, are very likely to pose a health risk. Over the last few years we have worked behind the scenes to create The Plastic Health Coalition to continually communicate and share the results of new research. We will make the findings of the ZonMw research known to the world and produce mini documentaries about them. These videos can eventually be viewed on our website and on the ZonMw’s website. Another part of The Plastic Health Coalition is the Plastic Test Lab. In addition to the ZonMw research, we will work with the Free University of Amsterdam to test if various products release microplastics and nanoplastics – just think about plastic teabags in hot water – and hormone disrupting additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants.”

Photo: Karl Taylor Photography


Also read: Important new report plastic health

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Scientific research into health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

    


PRESS RELEASE

Start of scientific research into the health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

Nieuwspoort, 22 March 2019 – Today, ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research and healthcare innovation, will launch fifteen unique research projects into the effects of micro- and nanoplastics on our health. This is the first scientific program in the world on this subject. A total of 1.6 million euros is being invested in the research projects.

Professor Dick Vethaak of Deltares, involved in four of the fifteen research projects, explains: “Microplastics spread easily via water and wind, resulting in a worldwide problem; they are present everywhere in our environment like a kind of grey mist.
We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles via our food, drink or through breathing. What this means for our health, however, cannot yet be properly estimated. There are strong indications of possible health risks, but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.”

Vethaak continues: “I am therefore delighted with this initiative from ZonMw and the involvement of the Plastic Soup Foundation. This is an initial exploratory study in which experts from various disciplines and sectors will work together. In particular, the collaboration between environmental scientists and medical specialists will be strong and unique. The Netherlands is taking the lead worldwide. I therefore have high expectations!”

The projects, which run for one year, address important questions such as:

  • How can microplastics enter our bodies?
  • What role does size, shape and composition play in this?
  • Could plastic in the environment be a source of diseases and infections since certain bacteria seem to thrive on plastic?
  • Can our immune system cope with plastic, or are we more likely to suffer inflammation and infections because of it?
  • How deep does microplastic penetrate into our bodies? Does it affect our brains? Is it harmful to unborn children?

Dr. Heather Leslie of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and involved in three of the projects, says: “If plastic particles can lead to chronic inflammation, that could mean the first step towards a whole series of chronic diseases. That is why we urgently need to investigate how many plastic particles from our consumer society penetrate the human body.”

The first interim results will be presented on 3 October, during a Plastic & Health conference in Amsterdam.

Just the beginning

ZonMw emphasises that the funding of these fifteen projects is only the beginning. One year is not long enough to obtain all the answers. Henk Smid, director of ZonMw, sees great potential in these studies and so also hopes that further long-term investigations will be possible. “The Netherlands has a leading position worldwide in scientific research into microplastics and this should be further expanded as quickly as possible.”

Plastic Health Coalition

Communication on the various pilot projects and possible (interim) results will be done by The Plastic Health Coalition – an initiative of the Plastic Soup Foundation. Working together in this coalition are various national and international environmental and research organisations which are concerned about or concerned with the effects of (micro) plastic on our health.

Plastic Test Lab

In addition to the 15 research projects, the first results of the Plastic Test Lab are also being presented today, a collaboration between the Plastic Soup Foundation and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We have had three cosmetics products tested for the presence of plastic particles and the results are alarming. The absolute disillusion is the anti-wrinkle day cream from Olaz. In one 50 ml jar the VU found no less than 1.5 million plastic particles. Every time I use this product, I therefore close the wrinkles on my face with 90,000 particles. In addition, HEMA lipstick No.06 is made of plastic, and so is the Essie glitter nail polish from L’Oréal.”

Westerbos continues: “Tests such as these fit seamlessly with the fifteen research projects of ZonMw. This gives us more insight into how microplastics can enter our body unimpeded and unintentionally.”

More information

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Plasticizers in plastic slow down baby’s language development

Amsterdam, 9 November 2018 – In order to make hard plastic products, firming substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA) are used. To make plastic soft and pliable, on the other hand, plasticizers such as phthalates are used. Both groups of chemicals are suspected to disrupt our endocrine system. Everyone, young and old, is constantly exposed to these chemicals and not just because of plastic products. Exposure to endocrine disruptors is associated with approximately eighty diseases, including testicular cancer, obesity and reproductive disorders.

One more study can be added to the series of studies that highlight the harmfulness of these substances. Swedish and American researchers have examined urine of pregnant women for the presence of phthalates. The results were related to the vocabulary of their children when they were 30 months old. A vocabulary of less than 50 words was considered a delay in language development. On both sides of the Atlantic a significant association was found between the presence of two specific phthalates and language deficiency. CNN reported on this research.

The fact that especially pregnant women are at risk, is known for much longer. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands concluded in a report that the exposure standards for BPA should be strengthened. Exposure to BPA should be brought down, particularly for pregnant women and young children. Instead of tougher legislation, in March 2016 the then Minister of Public Health Edith Schippers (VVD) made with the commitment to the House of Parliament that the information given to pregnant women and young mothers who are breastfeeding would be extended. This was to be done in collaboration with RIVM, the Nutrition Centre and VeiligheidNL.

The Swedish and American researchers also make some recommendations to avoid risks: “Buy less processed meat, use alternatives to plastic when possible, and avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic when possible”. The results of their study emphasise the importance of information. Has the public information indeed improved in the Netherlands after the commitment made by the Minister?

The VeiligheidNL website does not offer any information. Nutrition Centre says that “it is important that the exposure to BPA is as low as possible for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, new-borns and young children “. But also: “if you look at all the products (containing BPA) together, the amount you ingest as a consumer is far below the current health limit.” RIVM has extended their information in 2017, but the advice to prevent high intake of possible endocrine disruptors, are extremely poor and general. They read as an open door: “eat varied, use products according to the instructions and avoid situations in which you ingest the same substances for a long time.”

Pregnant women need to make do with this information. A number of questions over the telephone teach us that Child health care centres provide no specific information about avoiding exposure to BPA or phthalates. Denmark shows us that better information can be provided. How things are handled there, is summarized in a Wemos report.

In 2016, Minister of Public Health Schippers chose for better information instead of stricter legislation. The conclusion can be no other than that this information did not get off the ground. It is all the more important that the recommendations in the National Plan Endocrine Disruptors  in a Circular Economy. This plan, drawn up by Wemos and supported by, among others, the Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting Tegengif was presented to Dutch Parliament September last.

Also read: Hospitals must become BPA-free.

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