Every hour we breathe in about 16 microparticles of plastic, according to research by an international team of physicists. This further underscores the need to combat plastic pollution on Earth. In recent decades, scientists have found huge amounts of plastic debris and microplastic particles not only in rivers and lakes, but also in many remote regions of the world’s oceans, where giant “garbage patches” have emerged. Plastic debris particles have recently been found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench and at the summit of Mount Everest, where they have been carried by wind, sediments and deep currents.
Scientists’ interest in the problem of plastic pollution of the human body was due to the fact that a year ago, medics discovered the first evidence that plastic particles sometimes penetrate very deeply into the respiratory tract. This fact has forced scientists to think about how microplastics get into the respiratory organs and how often it happens.
Guided by such considerations, a team of Australian, Chinese and Iranian physicists led by Mohammed Islam, a senior researcher at the University of Technology in Sydney, studied the movement of microplastic particles through the upper airways of humans. The scientists prepared a detailed three-dimensional model of the human respiratory system and calculated how spherical, cylindrical and pyramidal plastic microparticles with diameters ranging from 1.6 to 5.5 microns move through it.
Scientists have calculated that every hour a typical person living in a large city inhales a little more than 16 particles of plastic debris. Most of them are large plastic microparticles with a diameter of 5.5 microns or more, much of which are deposited in specific regions of the nasal cavities and the oral part of the throat.
“The complex and very asymmetrical anatomy of this part of the airways, as well as the non-trivial nature of airflow within the nasal cavities and pharynx, causes plastic microparticles to start deviating from their typical trajectories and settling on the surfaces of these respiratory regions,” Islam explained.
As the physicists hope, they have developed a computer model will help physicians and biologists to assess the consequences of continuous ingestion of microplastic particles in the human body and to prepare appropriate recommendations to protect the health of residents of those regions of the world where there is a particularly strong plastic air pollution.
In addition, experts note that plastic pollution has serious implications for the environment and the health of living organisms. For example, microplastic particles can get into water and food, which can lead to various diseases and disorders in the body.
In turn, the World Bank notes that the annual damage from plastic pollution in the oceans can reach $13 billion. Therefore, it is necessary to take measures to combat plastic pollution, such as the use of biodegradable materials and the recycling of used plastic products.