A study that has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests that Americans are consuming between 203 and 312 bits of plastic every day, depending on our age and sex. These microparticles of plastics come from a wide variety of sources including fibers from cloths, bits of foams and films, and plastic granules found in the environment. Scientists aren’t yet sure what health risks these particles pose for humans.
The data used for the study was compiled from 26 studies that looked at 3,600 samples of food and drink sources. Some of those sources were seafood, salt, sugar, honey, and beer. Data was also reviewed regarding water from the tap and bottles, as well as microplastic concentrations in indoors and outdoors air. They used this data to calculate the amount of these substances the average person eats and breathes in every day.
Based on their calculations, the researchers discovered that the average American woman consumes about 98,000 tiny plastic particles annually, while the average man takes in more at 121,000. Drinking bottled water added about 86,000 more microplastics annually, an amount apparently avoided by drinking water from the tap. However, the authors cautioned that their numbers are likely to be underestimates, because there are many other sources of microplastics in the environment that were not considered in the study.
While there is little information on how microplastics affect people, the results of studies in other animals is concerning. The toxic chemicals in these tiny particles can leach out and cause detrimental health effects in a number of animal species. For example, studies of fish have shown that microplastics slow down their growth and reproduction rates. More research is needed to determine exactly what health effects the consumption of these particles will have on the human body.