Microplastics & Nanoplastics: Environmental Presence and Impact

Microplastics, defined as plastic particles less than five millimeters in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, posing environmental and potential health concerns. Nanoplastics are less than 1000 nanometers[i][ii]. Further, a recent study has revealed that bottled water may harbor hundreds of thousands of previously unaccounted tiny plastic particles. Led by team of Doctors at the Columbia University, the team has enhanced a potent imaging technique known as stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy. This imaging process can visualize small molecules within living cells[iii].

These particles, called Nanoplastics, are particles below 1 micrometer. A very large amount of nanoplastics were discovered in Bottled Water products. They are small they cannot be seen under most normal testing procedures. This is why they are so dangerous. They can easily cross the blood brain barrier and easily penetrate into human body cells, organs and other body processes/organisms[iv], and are Bio-accumulative. They are accumulating throughout the human food chain[v] and countries are outlawing the use of Microplastics[vi]. You will find tips on how to limit your exposure through this article.

Environmental Presence:

Aquatic Environments: These plastics are prevalent in marine and freshwater ecosystems. The study indicates high concentrations in oceans, lakes, and rivers. Sources include the fragmentation of larger plastics and the release of microplastics from synthetic textiles during washing[vii].

Sediments: These plastics accumulate in sediment, affecting benthic organisms. The study highlights their presence in sediment samples, emphasizing the persistence and potential impact on the bottom-dwelling species[viii].

Terrestrial Ecosystems: While initially associated with aquatic environments, microplastics and nanoplastics have infiltrated terrestrial ecosystems. This underscores their presence in soil, potentially stemming from the breakdown of plastic waste and the use of plastic-based fertilizers[ix][x].

Airborne: The study explores airborne microplastics and nanoplastics, revealing their presence in the atmosphere. This raises concerns about inhalation risks for humans and the potential for widespread distribution through the air[xi]. It is estimated that on average, one person inhales up to 22,000,000 micro and nanoplastic particles annually[xii][xiii][xiv][xv].

Impacts on Ecosystems:

  1. Marine Life: The ingestion of microplastics & nanoplastics by marine organisms is a significant concern highlighted in the study. It discusses the adverse effects on marine life, including potential harm to organisms and the transfer of contaminants associated with microplastics.
  2. Freshwater Species: The study emphasizes the impact of these plastics on freshwater ecosystems, with potential repercussions for aquatic species. The presence of microplastics in these environments poses a threat to both the organisms and the ecosystem.
  3. Soil Health: The study contributes to the understanding of these plastics impact on soil health, potentially influencing plant growth and overall soil quality. The entry of them into terrestrial ecosystems raises questions about their broader environmental consequences.


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[iii] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/plastic-particles-bottled-water
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[vii] Alimi OS, Farner Budarz J, Hernandez LM, Tufenkji N. Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Aquatic Environments: Aggregation, Deposition, and Enhanced Contaminant Transport. Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Feb 20;52(4):1704-1724. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b05559. Epub 2018 Jan 30. PMID: 29265806.
[viii] Amobonye A, Bhagwat P, Raveendran S, Singh S, Pillai S. Environmental Impacts of Microplastics and Nanoplastics: A Current Overview. Front Microbiol. 2021 Dec 15;12:768297. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.768297. PMID: 34975796; PMCID: PMC8714882.
[ix] de Souza Machado AA, Kloas W, Zarfl C, Hempel S, Rillig MC. Microplastics as an emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Glob Chang Biol. 2018 Apr;24(4):1405-1416. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14020. Epub 2018 Jan 31. PMID: 29245177; PMCID: PMC5834940.
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[xi] Nicole W. An Ill Wind? Growing Recognition of Airborne Nano- and Microplastic Exposures. Environ Health Perspect. 2023 Apr;131(4):42001. doi: 10.1289/EHP12662. Epub 2023 Apr 28. PMID: 37116008; PMCID: PMC10146709.
[xii] Kieran D. Cox et al., “Human Consumption of Microplastics,” Environmental Science & Technology 53, no. 12 (June 18, 2019): 7071, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517
[xiii] Kurunthachalam Kannan and Krishnamoorthi Vimalkumar, “A Review of Human Exposure to Microplastics and Insights Into Microplastics as Obesogens,” Frontiers in Endocrinology 12 (2021): 978, https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2021.724989
[xiv] Zhang et al., “Atmospheric Microplastics,” 12; Qun Zhang et al., “A Review of Microplastics in Table Salt, Drinking Water, and Air: Direct Human Exposure,” Environmental Science & Technology 54, no. 7 (April 7, 2020): 3747, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.9b04535
[xv] Alvise Vianello et al., “Simulating Human Exposure to Indoor Airborne Microplastics Using a Breathing Thermal Manikin,” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (June 17, 2019): 8670, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-45054-w