In a commentary published on January 26, 2022, in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives Kam Sripada from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway, and her eleven co-authors from universities and other institutions worldwide give an overview of the current state of knowledge on the exposure and impacts of nano- and microplastics during pregnancy and the associated impacts on child health.
The authors searched Web of Science and Scopus for literature published between 1991 and April 2021 for primary research articles, reviews, and meta-analyses on the exposure, toxicity, or hazard of nano- and microplastics. They identified 44 articles with relevance for pregnancy or child health, including 37 primary research articles and seven reviews. Nearly half of the research articles (18 studies) focused on the exposure of microplastics. However, estimates on children’s exposure were based on generic assumptions, such as the calculation of particle intake by particle-contaminated seafood. Concerning hazards, 12 experimental studies evaluated toxicokinetic aspects, including ingestion, inhalation, and placental transfer, while seven assessed toxicodynamic aspects such as allergy, asthma, embryo development, and reproductive effects. Besides these studies in mammalian models, one study followed an epidemiological approach looking at exposure as well as eye and airways irritation in a school environment.
Based on the reviewed literature, Sripada and co-authors identified large knowledge gaps that make it impossible to fully understand the health risks but they emphasized that the “evidence base around early life exposures to nano-and microplastics provides cause for concern.” Besides the general lack of scientific studies, all but one study used polystyrene beads although humans are exposed to a mixture of particles with a variety of shapes, sizes, and chemical compositions. To advance understanding, the scientists recommend that researchers work across disciplines to better quantify early life exposure, characterize long-term effects, and understand the linking of the two. To policymakers and industry, they advocate implementing precautionary approaches due to the current unknowns of nano- and microplastics associated risks. Although families’ scope of action would be limited, recommended measures to reduce early life exposure to plastic particles include a reduction of foods with plastic contact, a careful choice of personal care products and building materials, as well as a regular wet-cleaning of the house.
Sripada, K. et al. (2022). “A children’s health perspective on nano- and microplastics.” Environmental Health Perspectives. DOI: 10.1289/EHP9086
This article was originally published by Lisa Zimmermann at the Food Packaging Forum.