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Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of Unknowns Wikenigma - an Encyclopedia of the Unknown

Microplastics and human health implications

Note: Microplastic pollution is so widespread that it's now been found contaminating almost all multicellular lifeforms which have been tested. This article is only related to possible risks to human health.

Nano- and micro-plastics (NMPs) are extremely small plastic particles of mixed shapes and sizes, which, to date, have been found in air, soil, freshwater, seas, animals, plants, and human food.

Very little is currently known about possible detrimental health effects to humans. There are at least 16,000 plastic chemical products currently in use wordlwide, only 6% of which are regulated in any way. To complicate the picture further, more than 1,000 chemicals are used to produce plastics, and in general, manufacturers are not required to reveal their plastic recipes.

Over 25% of plastics are classed as Persistent, Bio-accumulative, Mobile, and/or Toxic (PBMT) - with largely unknown long-term human-health effects. Of particular concern are the so-called Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals (EDCs), which are known to be able to cause various diseases and even genetic abnormalities, which suggest possibilities of damage being passed-on to offspring.

A very comprehensive report into the current state of the problem, funded by the Norwegian Government, was released in 2024.

Over a quarter of known plastic chemicals lack basic information on their identity, and more than half have ambiguous or missing information on their functions and applications in the public domain. What is more, production volume data are not globally representative and restricted to certain countries […]
Importantly, hazard information is lacking for over 10,000 chemicals although such information is essential for ensuring proper assessment and management of these chemicals […]
This underscores the need for more transparent information on plastic chemicals’ identities, hazards, functionalities, production volumes, and their presence in plastics.

Source :PlastChem State-of-the-science of hazardous chemicals in plasticNorwegian Research Council, PlastChem, project number 341954, .pdf 181 pages.

To compound the problem, all plastics eventually break down in the environment, and the possible toxic properties of the mixtures of chemical breakdown-products are also almost entirely unknown.

Also see : Microplastic pollutionplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigMicroplastic pollution

"Plastic waste is currently generated at a rate approaching 400 Mt [mega-tonnes] / year. The amount of plastics accumulating in the environment is growing rapidly, yet our understanding of its persistence is very limited."

and Environmental plastic degradationplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigEnvironmental plastic degradation

Of the (estimated) 300 - 400 million tonnes of plastic produced worldwide every year, only around 20% is currently recycled or incinerated. Much of the remaining 80% eventually ends up in the environment.

In the environment, plastics are degraded by weathering, UV light, abrasion, and mechanical action etc - but they are also degraded by microbes (e.g.

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