Microplastic particles have been revealed in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which the researchers said was “a cause for great concern.”
The health impact of microplastics on the body is still unknown. But the scientists said they could transport chemicals that could cause long-term damage or disrupt the developing immune system of the fetus. The mothers likely ingested or inhaled the particles.
The particles were found in the placentas of four healthy women who had normal pregnancies and deliveries. Microplastics were detected on both the fetal and maternal side of the placenta and in the membrane within which the fetus develops.
A dozen plastic particles were found. However, only about 4% of each placenta was analyzed, suggesting that the total number of microplastics was much higher. All the particles analyzed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products.
Microplastics were mostly 10 microns (0.01mm) in size, which means they are small enough to be transported through the bloodstream. The particles may have entered the babies’ bodies, but the researchers were unable to assess this.
“It’s like having a cyborg baby: it is no longer made up of just human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities.” said Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, and who led the study. “The mothers were surprised.”
In the study, published in Environment International magazine, the researchers concluded: “Due to the crucial role of the placenta in supporting fetal development and acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern. More studies are needed to assess whether the presence of microplastics can trigger immune responses or can lead to the release of toxic pollutants, resulting in damage. “
The potential effects of microplastics on fetuses include reduced fetal growth, they said. The particles were not found in the placentas of two other women in the study, which may be the result of a different physiology, diet or lifestyle, the scientists said.
Microplastic pollution has reached all parts of the planet, from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. It is already known that people consume the tiny particles through food and water and breathe them in.
Its effect on the body is unknown, but scientists say there is an urgent need to evaluate the problem, especially for babies. In October, scientists revealed that babies fed formula in plastic bottles ingest millions of particles a day. In 2019, researchers reported the discovery of air pollutant particles on the fetal side of the placentas, indicating that unborn babies are also exposed to dirty air produced by car traffic and the burning of fossil fuels.
The Italian researchers used a plastic-free protocol to deliver the babies in order to avoid any contamination of the placentas. The obstetricians and midwives used cotton gloves to help the women during labor and only cotton towels were used in the delivery room.
Andrew Shennan, Professor of Obstetrics at King’s College London, told the Daily Mail It was reassuring that the babies in the study had normal deliveries, but “obviously it is preferable not to have foreign bodies while the baby is developing.”
Elizabeth Salter Green of the chemical charity Chem Trust said: “Babies are born pre-contaminated. The study was very small but nonetheless raises a very worrying concern. “
A recent separate study showed that plastic nanoparticles inhaled by pregnant laboratory rats were detected in the liver, lungs, heart, kidney and brain of their fetuses.
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