Researchers discovered microplastics in every human placenta analysed, signalling a potential threat to developing fetuses. The findings, published in the Toxicological Sciences journal, reveal a pervasive contamination of human tissues.

The study involved the examination of 62 placental tissue samples, with polyethylene, commonly used in plastic bags and bottles, identified as the most prevalent plastic detected. Concentrations of microplastics varied from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram, with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon also commonly found.

This revelation follows a separate study that found microplastics in all 17 human arteries tested, suggesting a potential link to blood vessel clogging. Microplastics have also been detected in human blood and breast milk, pointing to widespread contamination in people’s bodies.

While the health impacts remain uncertain, laboratory studies have demonstrated that microplastics can damage human cells. There is a growing concern about the possibility of microplastics lodging in tissues and causing inflammation, similar to air pollution particles, or the harmful effects of chemicals in plastics.

Professor Matthew Campen of the University of New Mexico, who led the research, expressed deep concern about the escalating global production of plastics, emphasising that the issue of microplastics in the environment is worsening. Ongoing research is crucial to understanding the long-term health implications of microplastic exposure.

The extensive contamination of human tissues may be linked to various health issues, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colon cancer in individuals under 50, and declining sperm counts. A 2021 study found that individuals with IBD had 50% more microplastics in their feces, indicating a potential association between microplastic exposure and certain health conditions.

The detection of microplastics in placentas first occurred in 2020, involving samples from four healthy women with normal pregnancies and births in Italy. Microplastics carry substances that can act as endocrine disruptors, potentially causing long-term effects on human health.

The concentration of microplastics in placentas is particularly concerning because placental tissue grows for only eight months, starting about a month into pregnancy. This shorter accumulation period raises additional health concerns, according to Professor Matthew Campen.