Micro- and nano-plastics and human health
Springer International Publishing
© The Author(s) 2015. Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Plastics are highly versatile materials that have brought huge societal benefits. They can be manufactured at low cost and their lightweight and adaptable nature has a myriad of applications in all aspects of everyday life, including food packaging, consumer products, medical devices and construction. By 2050, however, it is anticipated that an extra 33 billion tonnes of plastic will be added to the planet. Given that most currently used plastic polymers are highly resistant to degradation, this influx of persistent, complex materials is a risk to human and environmental health. Continuous daily interaction with plastic items allows oral, dermal and inhalation exposure to chemical components, leading to the widespread presence in the human body of chemicals associated with plastics. Indiscriminate disposal places a huge burden on waste management systems, allowing plastic wastes to infiltrate ecosystems, with the potential to contaminate the food chain. Of particular concern has been the reported presence of microscopic plastic debris, or microplastics (debris =1 mm in size), in aquatic, terrestrial and marine habitats. Yet, the potential for microplastics and nanoplastics of environmental origin to cause harm to human health remains understudied. In this article, some of the most widely encountered plastics in everyday use are identified and their potential hazards listed. Different routes of exposure to human populations, both of plastic additives, microplastics and nanoplastics from food items and from discarded debris are discussed. Risks associated with plastics and additives considered to be of most concern for human health are identified. Finally, some recent developments in delivering a new generation of safer, more sustainable polymers are considered.
TG gratefully acknowledges financial support from grants EU FP7 Cleansea Grant Agreement 308370 and NERC NE/L007010/1 during the preparation of this chapter.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Springer International Publishing via the DOI in this record.
In Bergmann, M., Gutow, L. & Klages, M. (eds.) Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2015, pp. 343-366.