21:57 GMT12 April 2021
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    A pilot study by a team of scientists from the Medical University of Vienna has found microplastics in human stool. The results of the research were shared at the United European Gastroenterology Conference on Tuesday. Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length and are the byproducts of the material breaking down.

    Sputnik has discussed the results of the new study with Dr. Bettina Liebmann, a consultant on environmental analysis, respected expert on microplastics at Environment Agency Austria and the study’s co-author.

    Sputnik: This is a very preliminary study and you have to realize that 8 people are not a lot, but would you say that the results are very shocking? It seems that everything that we buy is in plastic packaging. A lot of things that we buy, water from plastic bottles, a lot of fruits and vegetables are wrapped in plastic or come in plastic bags; is this surprising that we found microplastics in human stool?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: Since this is the first study of its kind investigating microplastics in human stool samples, we didn’t have any data beforehand.

    This was also the reason why we started with a very small number of participants, namely 8 persons. The conclusions to draw are really, really difficult, but what was astonishing for all of us was that all 8 out of 8 participant had microplastic particles in their stools. The origin of these microplastics is difficult to tell.

    As you mentioned before, there are many sources of plastics that are potentially entering our bodies via food, via ingestion and also by inhalation. So there is a large variety of possibilities and we indeed need further research to gain more information on that.

    Sputnik: I’ve heard that there are microplastics in drinking water. So they are not just in the bottled water that comes in a plastic bottle; they are in drinking water, they are in the ocean, they are in seafood, we’ve been hearing about this for ages. What is the real impact of these microplastics? Are they just passed through or can they actually wreak havoc on the human organism, or is this something that we don’t know yet?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: Well, this question is hard to answer given our small sample size. The good news is, I think personally, that the microplastics we found in the stool samples are a sign that those particles are excreted from the body.

    We cannot tell, however, how many particles remain inside the human body. We definitely need further research and our study should also act as a call for scientists to do more research on microplastics in the human body.

    Sputnik: Has there been an interest in the scientific community in these findings? Perhaps there has already been some kind of movement to further study this or do a larger scale study?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: Yes, so far I’ve received a very positive feedback from my scientific colleagues and I am really glad that we now have also the analytical method at hand to analyze such a difficult sample material for microplastics.

    Sputnik: How high are the concentrations that we are talking about I would’ve imagined that everybody’s got plastic in their bodies, it’s just because it’s everywhere: it’s in the water, it’s probably in the air, as you mentioned. How high were these concentrations, were they really alarming?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: Well, it’s difficult to tell because we don’t have any reference values. So, these are the first numbers that we can give at the moment, for 8 people who are not really representative, so please bear that in mind.

    We found a mean value of 20 particles made of several types of plastics per 10 grams of human stool. If this is a high number or a low number, we can’t really tell at the moment. Basically, it would be perfect if there were no particles of plastic in our body, but these figures now can serve as a baseline value for further studies.

    Sputnik: We all hear about the danger of plastic in the environment, that it takes ages and ages to decompose and on the other hand, we are hearing that these microplastics are products of the decomposition of plastic. Can you make some sense out of that for us, please?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: Well, we talk about microplastics from two different kinds. The primary microplastic is intentionally produced and serves a certain function; for example, microplastics that are added to cosmetic products or to detergents. Secondly, we have secondary microplastics, which are fragments from degradation of plastics in the environment.

    So, larger pieces of plastics, be it for example packaging, break down over time, influenced by UV radiation, for example, and turn into smaller and smaller microplastic particles.

    This is also the reason that we can’t really tell the origin of the microplastic particles when you find them anywhere in the environment and, more particularly, in human stool, because there are so many different ways for microplastics to be formed.

    Sputnik: We know about the larger size of the microplastics, we know that there is a certain size after which it is considered a microplastic, but what’s the minimum that a microplastic particle can be? Are we talking like 2.5 microns, something that can be inhaled or what’s the  minimum size?

    Dr. Bettina Liebmann: So far there is no standardized definition of the term “microplastics.” As you said, it’s now a common understanding that microplastics are particles smaller than 5 mm.

    The lower threshold, however, is still under discussion. Some say it is one micrometer, others say the lowest threshold should also include the nano-range.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Bettina Liebmann and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    cosmetics, plastic, health, environment, research, samples, microplastics, human stool, Dr. Bettina Liebmann, Austria
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