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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 19-21

Microplastics- All we know till now and the way out

1 Senior Resident, Department of Community & Family Medicine AIIMS Raipur, Dwarka, New Delhi, India
2 Additional Professor, Department of Community & Family Medicine AIIMS Raipur, Dwarka, New Delhi, India
3 Kumar Child Clinic, Dwarka, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission20-Dec-2018
Date of Acceptance31-Dec-2018
Date of Web Publication4-Feb-2019

Correspondence Address:
Abhiruchi Galhotra
Dept of CFM, AIIMS, Raipur
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2395-2113.251432

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How to cite this article:
Raj U, Kumar P, Galhotra A. Microplastics- All we know till now and the way out. Indian J Community Fam Med 2018;4:19-21

How to cite this URL:
Raj U, Kumar P, Galhotra A. Microplastics- All we know till now and the way out. Indian J Community Fam Med [serial online] 2018 [cited 2020 Aug 12];4:19-21. Available from: http://www.ijcfm.org/text.asp?2018/4/2/19/251432

  What is Microplastic? Is it the invisible plastic inside us which has entered every aspect of human life? Top

Using toothpaste early in the morning, drinking bottled water daily or using mild cosmetics are routine activities which are part of our daily lives. Ironically, these daily activities products are contributing not only to the problem of global plastic pollution, but also possibly various illnesses insidiously.

Plastic is defined as any synthetic or semi-synthetic polymer with thermo-plastic or thermo-set properties, which may be synthesized from hydrocarbons or biomass raw materials (UNEP 2016).[1] It is very light weight and can be transported to long distances. Plastic is durable— resistant to breakage and biodegradation.

Microplastics are generally referred to particles of plastic with a size lower than 5 mm. The terms ‘microplastics’ and ‘microlitter’ has been defined differently by various researchers. Gregory and Andrady (2003) defined microlitter as the barely visible particles that pass through a 500 lm sieve but retained by a 67 lm sieve (~0.06–0.5 mm in diameter) while particles larger than this were called mesolitter.[2] Others (Fendall and Sewell, 2009; Betts, 2008; Moore,2008), including a recent workshop on the topic (Arthur et al., 2009) defined the microparticles as being in the size range <5 mm.[3],[4] Microplastics are small plastic particles derived from a number of sources as clothing, industrial processes, cosmetics, packaging materials, etc. They are the results of the breakdown of all plastic wastes (“secondary microplastics”) or are specifically manufactured for skin care products (Microbeads; “primary microplastics”). These microbeads are tiny plastic granules and used as scrubbers in cosmetics, hand cleansers, air-blasting.

We all know that matter can’t be destroyed: it can only transform from one form to another: Plastics are a good example of this: they are resistant to natural degradation. Plastics become microplastics, which become nanoplastics, but all remain plastics only, just of increasingly smaller size, allowing them to enter food chain easily and perhaps even cross the gastrointestinal tract after ingestion and be transported throughout a living organism (Brennecke et al. 2015, Sharma and Chatterjee 2017).[5],[6] Presence of microplastics has not only been seen in bodies of vertebrates (fish, birds, and turtles) and invertebrates in marine ecosystem, but even has been confirmed in the samples of planktons.[7] All the three compartments of marine environment (water, sediments and biota) have been shown to be contaminated by microplastics. This malice of microplastics has not spared the remote, pristine marine enviornments, including deep-sea habitats upto 5000 m from surface and even Polar regions.[7],[8],[9]

Plastic production has seen an exponential growth since its entrance on the consumer stage, rising from a million ton in 1945 to over 300 million tons in 2014 (Plastics Europe 2015).[10]

Toxic link study in March 2018 confirmed that microplastics were indeed present in 50 per cent of face wash products commonly found in the Indian market. Alarmingly, more than 30 per cent toothpaste products were found to contain microplastics. Ranging from 5 to 7 millimetres in length, it is not difficult for these microplastics to slip through during production. But Toxic Links, and a few other organisations claim that microplastics are often used by manufacturers purposefully to help them increase the volume and weight of a product.

According to Sima Shakeri in India 80-90% of tap water contains microplastic in it.[11]

  Why is Use of Microplastics Increasing? Top

Microplastics find their way into our daily use products because of their tiny nature that makes it easier for manufacturers to add them in products, thereby increasing their volume, weight, viscosity and adhesive quality: Thus, microplastics are very attractive from a manufacturing standpoint.

In addition to introduction during manufacturing of various products, the second major source of microplastics is by degradation of plastic products. Due to durability, light weight, ease of manufacturing and low cost as compared to products made from natural fibres, the use of plastics has grown exponentially in last few decades. Globally, an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been manufactured since mass production began in the 1950s. Eighty per cent of this astonishing mass has accumulated in land fill or the natural environment. The University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health tested 159 tap water samples from seven countries, spanning five continents. Eighty three per cent of the tested samples were reported to be contaminated with microplastics <5 mm.[12] The water samples contained up to 57 microplastic particles per litre, with average global concentrations of 4.34/L (3.8/L for Europe). The authors estimate that we may consume 3000 to 4000 microplastic particles each year from tap water.[13]

  Health Impact Top

The tiny nature of microplastics can lead to their being stuck between teeth, in skin pore or hair roots, resulting in infection. Skin ageing and dark spots are common results of microplastics coming in contact with the skin regularly. Microplastics have also been known to enter the eye and result in corneal infection. The microplastics used in toothpaste can get stuck in the gum and trap bacteria leading to gingivitis. Over time that infection can also move from the gum into the bone holding the teeth and resulting into bleeding from gum.

Environmental microplastics also carry a cocktail of chemicals, including additives that are incorporated during manufacture and accumulate contaminants from the surrounding environment.[16] These contaminants often have known reproductive, carcinogenic, and mutagenic effects. Moreover, microplastics present a novel substrate, which becomes rapidly colonised by microbes, including pathogens leading to infection.[14]

Airborne microplastics can reach deep inside the lungs as their tiny size helps them bypass our first lines of defence (nasal hairs, sticky lining and cilia) lining our repiratory tract. These airborne microplastics are one of the constituents of particulate matter in air (PM2.5) that is increasingly being recognized as a grave public health hazard.[15]

The chronic biological effects have been seen in marine organisms which have resulted due to accumulation of microplastics in their cells and tissues. Human have similar biological make up which can lead to chronic effect on humans. Rising cancer could be linked to microplastics theoretically, but there is no concrete data as on date.

  What is the alternative? Top

Because of the recent threat of microplastics to marine biota as well as on human health, it is important to control excessive use of plastic additives and to introduce certain legislations and policies to regulate the sources of plastic litter. By setting up various plastic recycling processes or promoting plastic awareness programmes through different social and information media, we will be able to clean our sea dustbin in future. As for cosmetic manufacturers, a number of international companies have come up with alternatives like beeswax and jojoba waxes starched from corn and other natural compounds, which can be used in place of microplastics to have similar results. The Indian cosmetic manufacturers also cannot shy away from their responsibility till the government steps in. They must also take recourse to all these natural compounds for the larger interest of health of people and environment. And since there is not exclusive law barring the use of microplastics in products, manufacturing companies have no qualms including them. So legislation should be formulated soon. In addition to public, private, and government efforts to curb the generation of microplastics, another innovative and promising approach could be provided by exploiting the potentials of microorganisms, especially those of marine origin that can degrade microplastics.

The data on the impact of microplastics on humans is still lacking, but research on animals has suggested the particles can cause cancer, hormone disorders and other problems when they release chemicals during digestion. Plastic isn’t biodegradable either, so scientists fear it will continue to break down into smaller fragments that can pierce cells and travel through lymph nodes and other organs. More research is needed to elucidate this in detail. Further, these microplastic particles can also possibly act as a vector for the transfer and exposure of persistent organic pollutants to marine organisms.[17],[18] The evidence that microplastics act as factitious substrate for colonization of biofilm-forming microorganisms and that the flora on microplastics is distinct from other non-plastic substrates in water [19],[20],[21] also raises plausible concern on its impact on marine/fresh water ecosystem and ultimately on epidemiology of human infectious conditions.

  Conclusion Top

Plastic production has seen an exponential growth in past four decades. It is becoming an inevitable component of daily routine, which is leading to various health problems. There is a paucity of published data on its direct effect on human health. Time has come to have multi disciplinary team for further documentation of its effects and have a three dimensional approach for preventing the use of micoplastic in our day to day activity.

Conflict of interest: Nil

  References Top

Annual Report Empowering People to Protect the Planet 2016 accessed from https: wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/19529/  Back to cited text no. 1
Gregory MR, Andrady AL. Plastics in the marine environment. Plastics and the Environment. 2003 Feb 20; 379:389-90.  Back to cited text no. 2
Fendall LS, Sewell MA. Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers. Marine pollution bulletin. 2009 Aug 1; 58(8):1225-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
Betts, K., 2008. Why small plastic particles may pose a big problem in the oceans. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 8995.  Back to cited text no. 4
Moore, C.J., 2008. Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: a rapidly increasing, long-term threat. Environ. Res. 108 (2), 131-139  Back to cited text no. 5
Arthur, C., Baker, J., and Bamford, H., (Eds.), 2009. Proceedings of the International Research Workshop on the Occurrence, Effects and Fate of Micro-plastic Marine Debris, Sept 9-11, 2008. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS-OR&R-30.  Back to cited text no. 6
Costa MF, Barletta M. Microplastics in coastal and marine environments of the western tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic Ocean. Environ Sci Process Impacts, 2015: 17(11):1868-79.  Back to cited text no. 7
Auta HS, Emenike CU, Fauziah SH. Distribution and importance of microplastics in the marine environment: A review of the sources, fate, effects, and potential solutions. Enviorn Int, 2017; 102:165-176.  Back to cited text no. 8
Van Cauwenberge L, Vanreusel A, Mees J, Jeesen JR. Microplastic pollution in deep-sea sediments. Enviorn Pollut, 2013; 182:495-9  Back to cited text no. 9
Mohn F, Handler D, Brennecke J. piRNA-guided slicing specifies transcripts for Zucchini-dependent, phased piRNA biogenesis. Science. 2015 May 15; 348(6236):812-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
Sharma S, Chatterjee S. Microplastic pollution, a threat to marine ecosystem and human health: a short review. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 2017 Sep 1;24(27):21530-47.  Back to cited text no. 11
The Facts 2016: an analysis of European plastic production, demand and waste data. 2016 accessed from http://www.plasticseurope.org/home.aspx  Back to cited text no. 12
Synthetic polymer contamination in global drinking water. Orb Media, 2017. https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_final_report/multimedia  Back to cited text no. 13
EndoSYuyamaMTakadaH. Desorption kinetics of hydrophobic organic contaminants from marine plastic pellets. Mar Pollut Bull2013;74:125-31.doi:10.1016/j. marpolbul.2013.07.01823906473  Back to cited text no. 14
ZettlerERMincerTJAmaral-ZettlerLA. Life in the “plastisphere”: microbial communities on plastic marine debris. Environ Sci Technol2013;47:7137-46.doi:10.1021/es401288x23745679  Back to cited text no. 15
Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in? Johnny Gasperi1, a, Stephanie L. Wright2, a, Rachid Dris1, France Collard1, Corinne Mandin3, Mohamed Guerrouache4, Valérie Langlois4, Frank J. Kelly2 and Bruno Tassin1 Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health 2018, 1:1-5)  Back to cited text no. 16
Ng KL, Obbard JP. Prevalence of microplastics in Singapore>s coastal marine environment. Mar Pollut Bull, 2006; 52(7):761-7.  Back to cited text no. 17
Andrady AL. Microplastics in the marine environment. Mar Pollut Bull, 2011:62(8):1596-605.  Back to cited text no. 18
Miao L, Wang P, Hou J, Yao Y, et al. Distinct community structure and microbial functions of biofilms colonizing microplastics. Sci Total Enviorn, 2018: 650(Pt 2):2395-2402.  Back to cited text no. 19
Ogonowski M, Motiei A, Ininbergs K, Hell E, et al. Evidence for selective bacterial community structuring on microplastics. Enviorn Microbiol, 2018: 20(8):2796-2808.  Back to cited text no. 20
Zettler ER, Mincer TJ, Amaral-Zettler LA. Life in the “plastisphere”: microbial communities on plastic marine debris. Enviorn Sci Technol, 2013: 47(13):7137-46.  Back to cited text no. 21


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