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Study Looks at Safety of Microplastics

May 11, 2016
Public Health

Giving evidence at a meeting of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Professor Frank Kelly from Kings College London revealed researchers have started to study whether so called microplastics in the air are a significant problem.

“This is a horizon-scanning issue but the particles are of a size that they are [breathable], they are increasing in number in our environment and there is a question to be asked,” he told a cross party group of MP’s. “If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation, in the same way as we worry about all the other vehicle-related emissions.”

Trillions of microplastic pieces are produced in the world’s oceans every year from an estimated 10 million tonnes of plastic that is discarded. The problem is so acute some experts claim that 10% of the weight of most common seabirds is made up of plastics. Most of the recent attention has focused on microbeads which are used in a variety of toiletries including exfoliants and toothpastes.

The government is considering a ban on microbeads after a resolution was passed in the European Parliament calling for their removal from sale and some companies have already taken proactive steps to end their use. Unilever banned microbeads in their products in 2015 and L’Oréal will follow suit by the end of next year. There are a number of safe alternatives available including nutshells and salt.