Microplastic Impacts – The Economy & Human Health
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
When we think about impacts associated with microplastics, the first thing that will come to mind is the effects that they have on biodiversity, that is, habitats, animals, and entire ecosystems. However, this is not the full picture.
Social implications associated with microplastics can involve potential threat to the public’s health and safety. The full extent on how microplastics affect human health is still unknown and entities like the European Food and Safety Authority are encouraging further research to be done in this field. Microplastics often contain additives or other substances, so risks associated with these chemicals must also be considered.
Scientists have theorized that microplastics could end up in cells, and the blood stream and at this point, whether they metabolize and what kind of harm this could do is unknown. However, a large amount of research has been done on the impacts of chemical additives such as plasticizers, bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These have shown to have endocrine-disrupting properties that can potentially cause adverse health effects on human reproduction and growth, including cancer causing properties. Plastic surfaces provide an excellent environment for microbial growth, making them vehicles for disease if ending up in the human body.
You may be asking yourself - how do these pesky plastics end up in our system to begin with? Oral consumption and drinking water are probably the most likely. Microplastics is not limited to seafood and has been found in a variety of food and drink items such as salt, beer, honey, and sugar. Absorption through our skin is less likely for microplastics as they are too large, however, nanoplastics could potentially penetrate. Inhaling microplastics is also possible since airborne particles have been found.
Microplastics in the environment also have direct economic costs. Not only will they impact the public health system from increased costs of medical care but could also impact industries.
Tourist spots, ports, and marinas and coastline communities will need to consider the costs of cleaning up plastic debris form waterways, which is a substantial fiscal burden and would require specific transportation and waste management to be put in place. The deterioration of habitats and water quality could result in lower ocean productivity, affecting food production systems like fishing and aquaculture. It could also increase the cost of filtration systems and desalination operations.
Through understanding the microplastic problem, and where these are prevalent, governments and society can better equip themselves to mitigate its impacts. Finding long term solutions is key – and further research is needed for the world to better define these pollutants we are dealing with.