Microplastics Were Detected in Every Human Placenta Tested in a New Study


Recent studies indicate that microplastics are present in nearly everything we consume, from bottled water to meat and plant-based foods. Researchers from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences have developed a new analytical tool to measure microplastics found in human placentas. 

In a new study published in the journal Toxicological Sciences, 62 donated placental tissue samples were analyzed. The samples underwent a chemical process known as saponification, where fats and proteins were converted into soap. Each sample was then spun in an ultracentrifuge to separate the microplastics from the tissue. In the final step, the plastics were heated up to 600 degrees Celsius using a technique called pyrolysis, and the gas emissions from different types of plastics burning at specific temperatures were examined. 

According to the research findings, all 62 placental samples analyzed contained microplastics, with concentrations ranging from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue. Although these numbers may seem small, scientists are concerned about the potential health effects of the increasing amount of microplastics in the environment. 

Researchers identified polyethylene, commonly used in the production of plastic bags and bottles, as the most prevalent polymer in the placental tissue, accounting for 54% of the total plastics. Approximately 10% of the plastic was composed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon, with the remaining portion consisting of nine other polymers. 

Globally, plastic use has increased exponentially since the 1950s, resulting in the production of one metric ton of plastic waste per person on the planet. While about one-third of the produced plastic is still in use, the majority is discarded or sent to landfills. 
The health effects of microplastics in our bodies are not yet fully understood. However, scientists suggest that the increasing concentration of microplastics in human tissue may explain the surprising rise in certain health issues in individuals under 50, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, as well as a decrease in sperm count.

Reference: Garcia MA, et al. Quantitation and identification of microplastics accumulation in human placental specimens using pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Toxicol Sci 2024;199(1):81-88.