Recent studies cast doubt on the safety of the food we eat
For years, scientists have discovered the presence of microplastics in fish and other edible sea animals. However, in the two separate studies last month, microplastic was found in fruits and vegetables.
First, the researchers at the University of Catania (in Italy), discovered the presence of microplastics in cultivated fruits and vegetables. The University top Scientist, Margherita Ferrante said apples and carrots are particularly vulnerable.
Similarly, a joint study between Dr Lianzhen Li of The Yanthai Institute of Coastal Zone Research in China and Professor Willy Peijnenburg of Leiden University in Netherland discovered microplastics in root vegetables.
What is Microplastic?
For those who don’t know, microplastics are tiny fragments of plastics that form pollution virtually everywhere. Some are results of big plastics that do not fully disintegrate while others are manufactured to use in cosmetics and household products.
Most liquid soap, especially shower gels and shampoos contain microplastics to pump up volume.
Microplastic is present as an exfoliator in face and body scrubs. The use of microplastics was banned in cleaning and cosmetics products in the United Kingdom on the ninth of January 2018.
The problem with microplastic is that they are too tiny to be picked up by water filtration, so they end up in oceans, rivers and canals. They then form a threat to wildlife. Microplastics have been found in gills of lobsters and other sea animals.
Microplastic Too Tiny To Penetrate into Fruits & Vegetables?
Although scientists know all along that microplastic is present in rivers, ocean, soil air, and sea, they thought it will be too small to penetrate into roots of fruits and vegetables.
This is because wastewater is used in irrigation in agriculture. The wastewater is usually treated before use, so it is now known that the treatment does not remove all the microplastic, hence it found its way into fruits and vegetables.
The first study by the University of Catania was published in the Journal of Environmental Research in Italy.
The second review was published in Nature Sustainability. Sian Sutherland, an environmental campaigner mentioned that ‘’five a day of toxic microplastic and chemical is not what the doctor ordered’’.
What It Means For You And Me
The negative impact of plastics, micro or otherwise in the food chain and subsequently on our health cannot be overemphasized. Maria Westeros, of Plastic Soup Foundation, said:
‘’If it is getting into vegetables, it is getting into everything that eats vegetables as well. This means it is in our meat and dairy. What we need to find out is ‘what it is doing to us. This is unchartered territory. Does it make us sick as well?’’
The greatest risk, therefore, is that the microplastic found its way into our plate, and we consumed them as food. The microplastic is in fish, but it is in their intestine. Since this is removed, humans don’t consume it. However, in Mollusc like oysters and shellfish, it posses a problem, as everything is consumed.
It is possible therefore that the microplastic can endanger our health. We use too many plastics, and very few of the plastic waste is being recycled. The result is plastic pollution virtually everywhere, in the air, water, soil and in the sea. So we do ingest plastic.
The chief scientist, Pete Myers of Carnegie Mellon University in Australia said ingested plastic can leach out bisphenol A and phthalates. Bisphenols exposure is known to interfere with hormones, and it is linked to reduced fertility in both men and women, and especially to lower testosterone in the male.
Styrene is another by-product of plastic and food packaging industry that is linked to nervous system illness, hearing loss and cancer.
Microplastic particles accumulate as PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) with its attendance effect on a weakened immune system and reproductive problem.
Little Things You Can Do To Minimise Your Exposure To Microplastic
Use glass plates to heat foods in the microwave oven — I know most people are used to using plastic for heating foods in the microwave, it healthier to use glass containers. This prevents particles of the plastic to leach into the food.
Also, hand wash any plastic plates or containers rather than putting them in dishwashers, and use glass containers to store foods in the fridge and freezers.
Minimise the use of household plastic utensils.
Drink water from your tap — instead of from bottled water. Research shows that tap water, especially because most stay longer than usual before being sold, contain more microplastic particles than tap water.
Plastic is porous, so the water takes in dust particles from the storage environment.
If you must take bottle water, then buy those ones in glass bottles instead.
Vacuum away household dust — clean your house regularly to prevent your breathing in remnants from household dust. Household dust does contain flame retardant, phthalates, and poly-fluoroalkyl substances which are easily breathable if not cleared.
Read more about vegetables here from JJ Lim
A Veggie Meter Can Tell If You Eat Enough Fruits And Veggies.
A brilliant invention that I hope to see it exists in every clinic.
Read more about the global threat that plastic creates: from Valentina Colapicchioni PhD