Microplastics are being talked about more and more often. As plastic waste degrades, it gradually breaks down into microscopic particles. These particles easily pass through the food chain to the human body. We can find them practically all over the world, from deserts to oceans or forests. A new study by Tel Aviv University researchers found that in a marine environment, microplastics absorb and concentrate toxic organic substances and thus increase their toxicity by a factor of 10. This may lead to a severe impact on human health. The study was recently published in the journal Chemosphere.

Increased microplastic toxicity

The study was conducted by Dr. Ines Zucker of the School of Mechanical Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, together with Ph.D. student Andrey Eitan Rubin.

The researchers studied in detail the processes that microplastics go through. Interactions with pollutants as well as their release and creation of a toxic environment were investigated. The study showed that adsorption of those organic pollutants to the microplastics increases toxicity by a factor of 10 and may also cause severe impact on humans who are exposed to contaminated food and drink.

Impact on the human body

The research team studied how microplasts interact with triclosan, antibiotics and an antifungal agent. They found that the plastics absorbed more triclosan after they had been oxidized, a proxy for environmental weathering, the press release explained. They also found that triclosan-contaminated plastics had a greater impact on human cells than either triclosan or microplastics separately.

Microplasts pose a greater danger than previously thought

Dr. Zucker explains that “in this study we showed that even very low concentrations of environmental pollutants, which are non-toxic to humans, once adsorb to the microplastic result in significant increase in toxicity. This is because microplastics are a kind of ‘magnet’ for environmental pollutants, concentrating them on its surfaces, ‘ferrying’ them through our digestive tract, and releasing them in a concentrated form in certain areas — thus causing increased toxicity. ”

Dr. Zucker concludes that they “have found that the adsorption capacity of an oxidized microplastic particle (the configuration of the microplastic after undergoing environmental weathering) is significantly higher than a non-oxidized particle. After the environmental pollutants adsorb to the microplastic, the pre-loaded particle may reach the digestive tract through the ingestion of contaminated food and water where it releases the toxins in close proximity to the cells of the digestive tract, thus increasing the toxicity of these substances. The dangers are not theoretical but are more tangible than ever, although there is a great deal of awareness of this problem, the preventive measures in the field. are still far from imprinting a significant mark. ”