Health risk from microplasty not proven

Science puzzles: How dangerous is microplasty? The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) declares that an assessment for health is currently not possible.

After Austrian researchers found microplasty in human stool samples, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) points out that there is currently no data available for reliable statements on the health hazard of microplasty in the food chain. The inclusion of microplasty in the gastrointestinal tract is expected by the Institute, as toothpaste, for example, also contains microplasty and can be swallowed.

It is not possible to deduce from previous studies how many microplastic particles consumers consume, for example by eating fish. Microplastics have so far been shown to be particularly effective in the gastrointestinal tract of fish, which is usually not consumed. “In order to assess the actual risk of microplasty in the food chain, we need more reliable data,” says BfR President Professor Andreas Hensel. “The BfR is currently carrying out studies on the uptake of microplastic particles via the intestine and on the possible health effects.

Does public perception deviate from scientific assessment?

According to a survey by the BfR, 75 percent of the population consider food to be safe. However, microplastics in food are moving more and more Germans, as the BfR consumer monitor from August 2018 shows. Half a year ago, 45 percent were concerned about microplastics in food. Now, with an increase of 11 percentage points, more than half of those surveyed are concerned. For the BfR, it is particularly interesting whether the public perception deviates from the scientific assessment. The BfR has therefore compiled frequent questions and answers on microplastics:

What is microplasty?

The term microplastics is used for small plastic particles of different origin, size and chemical composition. The size specifications for microplastics are not uniformly defined in the literature and usually vary between 0.001 mm and less than 5 mm.

A basic distinction is made between primary and secondary microplastics: Primary microplastics are produced industrially in the form of plastic-based granulates or pellets (resin pellets). Various plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyamide (nylon) and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) are used. Secondary microplastics are created by chemical and physical ageing and decomposition processes from plastic bags or plastic bottles, for example. Secondary microplastics is one of the main sources of environmental pollution.

How does microplastics get into the environment?

Primary microplastics is used as granulate or pellet for the production of plastic products. It is also specifically used, for example, in industrial sandblasters, cleaning pastes and some cosmetic products. Since sewage treatment plants filter the particles out of the wastewater only insufficiently, a large part reaches the water bodies. Another source of plastic pollution is the consumer: carelessly discarded packaging, bags, bottles or canisters are released into the environment. Since plastic is hardly degradable, it remains in the environment for an indefinite period and accumulates there. This results in secondary microplastics due to aging and decomposition processes. Secondary microplastics are also produced when textiles containing plastic are worn and washed. This applies, for example, to fleece garments made of a velour fabric, which is usually made of polyester or polyacrylic. During these processes, microfibres are released from the textile into the air or into the waste water.

Why are plastic microparticles used in cosmetics?

Microplastic particles are used in cosmetic products such as shower gel, peeling or toothpaste to gently remove dandruff, dirt and plaque. All ingredients of a cosmetic product are listed on the product. However, it is not necessary to declare whether they are used as micro-plastic particles.

Is there a health risk for consumers when using cosmetics with microparticles?

According to current knowledge, a health risk for consumers is unlikely since the micro plastic particles used in peelings or shower gels are larger than 1 micrometer (1 µm corresponds to 0.001 mm). With this particle size, absorption via healthy and intact skin is not to be expected with foreseeable use of the products. Also when swallowing toothpaste, it can be assumed due to the molecular size that absorption via the gastrointestinal tract is only possible in small amounts.

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