Microplastic: The Particle Found Everywhere

Author: Ellie Livitsanou

Editor: Anand Soma

Artist: Tiffany Chen

Found practically everywhere, from the deep depths of the ocean and the stomachs of most fish to the food we eat and the organs inside of us, microplastics are found in almost every crevice of the earth.

How is it possible for them to be everywhere? Well, the simple answer is, they're tiny. They are as tiny as a sesame seed at only 5mm long. Because they’re so small, they can get into every single crevice. They are the perfect size for fish to accidentally eat, as they assume the microplastics are bits of food. They’re so light, they’re even in the air we breathe.

But what exactly are microplastics? Microplastics are a tiny form of plastic that come in two different categories: primary microplastics, such as microbeads (tiny pieces of man-made polyethylene plastic), that are added to personal care products for exfoliation, and secondary microplastics, which are a consequence of the natural durability of plastic. These are made from larger pieces of plastic which gradually break down into smaller and smaller pieces from the sunlight and wave action, making microplastics.

Are these plastics necessarily bad? Scientists have found microplastics in food items such as salt and drinking water, meaning we ingest them regularly, with the average American ingesting around 74 thousand microplastic particles every year. There is evidence that a pregnant mother can pass on these particles to the placenta, and, from there, to the fetus they are carrying. Some say that these particles could leach bisphenol A and phthalates. Bisphenol is known to mess with hormones and there are even studies showing that they can reduce fertility in both men and women. Phthalates are also known to disrupt hormones and they are linked to lower testosterone levels in male children. Another harmful chemical found in plastic is Styrene, which has been linked to numerous health issues including hearing loss, nervous system problems, and even cancers. Microplastics can also collect PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), that have been linked to various harmful health issues such as cancers, reproductive problems, weakened immune systems, and more. Even low doses of these chemicals can have a drastic effect on our health.

It's a similar issue for marine animals. Fish and other marine animals eat these microplastics mistaking them for food. They have been found to cause inflammation in tissue, stunt growth, reduce appetite, disrupt reproductive systems, change feeding behavior, and even cause liver damage. This is yet another massive problem for our oceans. Fish are already endangered, with industrial fishing and pollution potentially creating fishless oceans by 2050.

Citations:

Consumer reports. ‘’You’re literally eating microplastics. How you can cut down exposure to

them.’’, Washington Post. Oct. 7th 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/youre-

literally-eating-microplastics-how-you-can-cut-down-exposure-to-

them/2019/10/04/22ebdfb6-e17a-11e9-8dc8-498eabc129a0_story.html. Accessed 20 Sept.

2020.

Parker, Laura. ‘’Microplastics have moved into virtually every crevice on Earth’’, National

Geographic. Aug 7th 2020.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/microplastics-in-virtually-every-

crevice-on-earth/. Accessed 20 Sept 2020.

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