plastic, microplastics, pollution, placenta,
placentas, birth, women, pregnancy, polypropylene, PP, thermoplastic,
thermosets, medicine, biology
Part 1 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here
Ascolta l'episodio in italiano
Ooooh, hello dear English speaking-reading-hearing reader, welcome back to me, @sciencemug, the blog/podcast/twitter&instagram accounts/entity behind the unsuccessful e-shop stuffngo on zazzle.com which tells you science stories while reading the palm but yet not being able to decipher the tree, aaand which talks to you thanks to the voice, kidnapped via a voodoo-wireless trick, from a veeery very very dumb human.
Aaand which does all of this in English-question-mark, a language that is to proper English what a banana bacon muffin is to something that doesn’t scream: “human civilization is doomed!”.
Today I’m gonna tell you the second part (the first one is here) of a story about human placentas and plastics!
|Plastics symbols on plastics background (by @sciencemug)|
A group of Italian researchers (aka the Italian Brains, aka the ITBs) studies human placentas in search of microplastics fragments (MPs), that is plastic particles smaller than half a centimeter. In doing so, the researchers find such pollutants in the placentas of women in good health and who have had normal pregnancies and deliveries. The ITBs’ study is therefore “the first [one] revealing the presence of [...] microplastics and, in general, of man-made particles in human placenta” (P).
The Italian research team is lead by Medical Doctor Antonio Ragusa, Head of the Department of Woman, Mother and Newborn of the San Giovanni Calibíta Fatebenefratelli Hospital, in Rome, and it publishes its study (P) in the science journal Environment International.
Sooo, dear reader, in part 1 I told you about the microplastics classification story, and also about how the Italian Brains select the women involved in their study, how they design and follow a plastic free protocol to collect the placenta samples, and what kind of technique (the Raman microspectroscopy) they use to analyze such samples.
Now, all in all, the ITBs collect six placentas. Let’s remember that, from each placenta, the ITBs take and then analyze, precisely via Raman microspectroscopy, three pieces between about 20 and 30 gr of weight (the mean weight is 23.3gr). Of these three pieces, one comes from the maternal side of the placenta, one from the fetal side, and the third one from the chorioamniotic membranes, namely the two membranes that form the embryo sac, which is the structure that surrounds and protects the fetus.
Sooo, dear reader, let’s see then what the ITBs find out.
of the 6
collected placentas the researchers find a total of 12 small
fragments of non-human something.
|Fetus & the palstinvasion (by @sciencemug)|
How small, you ask?
Well, ten fragments are about 10μm in size, whilethe other two are even smaller, being about 5μm.
Now, dear reader, just to get an idea of how tiny these pieces of plastics are, think of this: one micrometer (μm) is one millionth of a meter, meaning that, if a shorty like LeBron James were 1µm, then 1 meter would be about the distance between Rome (Italy) and Oslo (Norway), or New York (US) and Miami (US), or Hong-Kong and Seoul (South Korea).
So, yeah, those 12 fragments are definitely tiny. And more in detail, 5 of them small things are found in the fetal side portions of the placentas, 4 in the maternal side ones, and 3 in the chorioamniotic membranes.
Moreover, the ITBs say that the real amount of fragments in each placenta could actually be way bigger, because the analyzed samples’ are just a small fraction of the placenta they come from. The samples weight is indeed about 23 grams, while the placenta weights twenty six times more, as in about 600gr (P).
Anyway, twelve fragments of non-human stuff are actually detected in the collected placentas.
Now the question is: what are these small pieces of something exactly made of?
Well, dear reader, the Italian Brains are able to say that this 12 things are made of plastic, hence they are microplastics fragments (MPs).
Aaand, at this point dear smarty smart reader, you’re for sure wondering how the ITBs have been able to say twelve times: “Oh, yes, yes - nodding and speaking like an entitled but with a good soul English duke of the nineteen century - this sample is clearly that of a piece of plastic” and not, I dunno, that of a particularly adventurous pollen grain which followed what it thought was a White Rabbit and instead was a mean white blood cell doing a silly practical joke, ooor that of a not much bright soybean sprout veeeery into Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.
Well, dear smarty smart reader, the answer is: color! Or better, pigmentation.
All twelve fragments found in the placenta samples are indeed pigmented.
And that of the pigments, pal, is not just a curiosity, it is an important issue.
Let’s see why.
Dr. Ragusa and colleagues analyze the placenta samples, as said, via the Raman microspectroscopy, and the Raman spectra from the samples often reveals, more than anything, the pigments used for plastic staining, and that’s because the structure itself of the pigments' molecules somehow boosts their Raman microspectroscopy’s signal’s intensity (P).
So, as a first step, the ITBs compare their samples spectra with the over 12000 ones of the “world’s largest spectral reference database” (see) integrated with the spectral software KnowItAll they use. And guess what, dear reader, this overconfident-almost-cocky-but-at-the-end-of-the-day-easygoing-and-collaborative KnowItAll software finds out the pigments contained in the fragments.
At this point, the Italian Brains compare these brand new data of theirs with those of the database of the European Chemical Agency, the ECHA, an agency that works “for the safe use of chemicals [and is] the centre of knowledge on the sustainable management of chemicals” (see).
Thanks to this step, then, Dr. Ragusa and colleagues identify the pigments’ chemical formula, commercial name and IUPAC name, that is the name given to organic stuff according to the IUPAC rules, where IUPAC stands for International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, an organization born in 1919 and formed “by chemists from industry and academia, who recognized the need for international standardization in chemistry” (see)].
Finally, as the last step of their pigment investigation, our super-efficient tireless Italian researchers compare the Raman spectra of the twelve placentas located microplastics fragments also with those of the SLOPP library of Microplastics, which is “a spectral library of plastic particles, consisting of 148 reference spectra, including a diversity of polymer types, colors, and morphologies” (see), a library curated by professor Chelsea Rochman's lab of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto.
Sooo, dear dearest reader, at the end of their quest, after aaall these comparisons and data mining, the Italian Brains can say that all twelve fragments (labeled #1-#12) are microplastics that contain pigments.
And how come, dear reader, that aaall of them fragments, all of them, contain pigments? Is it a coincidence? Is it fate? Is it a conspiracy secretly conspired by the evil TSLOTLMPLDLGWAMUOCBLAICMEBEBWBBITWRIOBJFG (The-Secret-League-Of-The-Let’s-Make-Pollution-Less-Depressing-Let’s-Go-With-A-Massive-Use-Of-Colors-Because-Let’s-Admit-It-Colors-Make-Everythig-Better-Even-Broccoli-Would-Be-Better-If-They-Were-Rainbowed*-Insted-Of-Been-Just-Flat-Green)?
Eeeh, hehe, the answer, dear reader, after the commercial break!
* Yeah, pal, I know that "to rainbow" isn't a real verb, but it is not so inappropriate to use a fake verb in a fake secret league's name, don't ya think?!
Do you know that there’s a good chance there be plastics, in the food you normally eat?
I know, eyes opening, right?
Well, then why do you keep wasting an incredible opportunity to explore your own creativity?!
Cut the middleman, start eating plastics directly, and buy our mind blowing: “1001 ways to cook your plastics!” recipe book!
|The Hot-plastidog (by @sciencemug)|
“1001 ways to cook your plastics!” recipe book: oil derivatives have never been so yummy!
“1001 ways to cook your plastics!” is now even an APP that will associate the QR code of the plastics you want to cook with the best recipes they fit in!
So, dear reader, all the MPs found in the human placentas by the Italian Brains contain pigments, specifically: blue, dark blue, violet, pink, red and orange ones.
But why is it so?
Well, pal, it’s ‘cause pigments are used to color not just plastics, but paints and coatings too, and these guys “are as ubiquitous as MPs” (P).
Take the orange color pigment, for example, it is Iron hydroxide oxide (fragment #1) and it is used to color plastics and rubber, yes, but also a lot of cosmetics, such as beauty balms or blemish balms creams and foundations.
Take the blue, then. The blue comes form copper phthalocyanine (fragments #2, #5, #10,) and phthalocyanine (fragment #3), which are used not only for staining plastics but also for finger paints.
Then there are the dark blue ones, pigment violanthrone (fragment #4), that “is used especially for textile (cotton/polyester) dyeing, coating products, adhesives, fragrances and air fresheners” (P), and pigment Ultramarine blue (fragment #9), which in turn is mostly used in cosmetics, like “for formulations of soap, lipstick, mascara, eye shadow and other make-up products” (P).
And so on and on for the red, the violet and the pink ones.
So, dear pal, to sum up, putting together all their data, the Italian Brains not only can say that all twelve fragments found in the women’s placentas are microplastics, but even that nine fragments (#1, #3–9, and #12), are “paint/coating/dye MPs […] applied for paints, coatings, adhesives, plasters, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products” (P) (think, for example, to the “‘microbeads’ used in cosmetic and personal healthcare products, such as toothpaste” (1), while the other three fragments (#2, #10 and #11) are stained MPs, more specifically polypropylene, also known as PP (P).
Aaand does this PP ring a bell, dear reader? No? Well it should, pal, as PP belongs (like, among others, polyethylenen (aka PE), polyvinylchloride (aka PVC), polystyrene (aka PS) and polyethylene terephthalate (aka PET)) to one of the two most common types of plastics: the thermoplastics (that are the 80% of the produced plastics (2)), the other type being thermosets which includes, among others, polyurethane (aka PUR), polyester, silicone and acrylic resins.
Anyway, our placenta lover Mr. polypropylene PP is one of the plastics more commonly found in the oceans and seas (we’re talking about plastic pollution here), coming from rope, bottle caps and netting (3).
Besides, in total, PP represents a fifth (21%) of global plastics production, along with PE (36%), PVC (12%), and PET, PUR, and PS (less than 10% each) (4).
These just mentioned plastics here, dear reader, along with polyester, polyamide, and acrylic fibers (aka PP&A) are the “92% of all plastics ever made” (4), which, in 2017, were about 8300 millions tons (2) (and considering that the annual global plastic production in 2017 reached 380 million tons (2), well, you do the math up to adjust the total amount of plastics ever produced till this year 2021).
|We live in the plastics... The PlastiMatrix (by @sciencemug)|
Aaaand 60% of all these ever made plastics, 60% dear reader, has been “discarded and [is] accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment” (4).
That 60% is around 4900 millions tons (4).
Just to put it into prospective, dear reader, 4900 millions tons are, in terms of weight, about 49thousands aircraft carriers (you place all of them one after the other and you go from Tokyo to San Francisco and back), or about 13.5thousands Empire State Buildings or, well, almost 3.3billions big fat walruses (aaand you put ‘em one after the other and you get to be called the walrus whisperer...).
So, dear reader, you realize this is crazy, ‘cause, although first synthetic plastics like Bakelite date back to the early 20th century, the generalized non-military oriented use of plastics starts only after World War II (4) thus the massive plastic production starts only in the ‘50s (5)!
This means that 8300 millions tons of plastic and 4900 millions tons of plastic garbage have been made in less than just 70 years, and plastic usage ramped up by 25-folds over the last 40 years alone (2).
For instance, dear reader, in 2016 the plastic material demand of the only European Union (Great Britain still included) plus Norway and Switzerland has been of 49 millions tons.
Aaaaand, dear dearest reader, to now go full circle back to our plastics in human placentas centered story, know that, about 40% of these 49mil tons of plastics demand was for packaging (6) which is world’s “plastics’ largest market” (4) and is predominantly composed of PE, PET (4) and, precisely, our placenta cozy Mr. polypropylene PP.
Sooo, dear reader, there’s a humongous amount of plastics all around you humans, yes, but how exactly tiny pieces of plastics manage to end up inside your human bodies, and even reach placenta tissues at all levels?
Are microplastics indeed space-nanoprobes coming from mysterious interstellar object 1I/2017 U1 aka ʻOumuamua, which in reality is a Galactic Factory belonging to an alien consortium, with human associates, that produces Space-Chocolate and Universal-Chili, so its nanoprobes colonize pregnant women in order to induce pregnancy cravings for those products and therefore make their sales to skyrocket?
Weell, conspiracy freak pal, you’ll get the answer to this in the next part of the post!
In the meantime, dear reader, take care, and if you spare some time and feel like doing it, please subscribe and/or rate this podcast, and/or leave a comment on the blog, and/or take a tour on my stuffngo (sNg) e-shop on zazzle.com so you can see if there’s something you like, aaand/or make a donation clicking on the “Donate” button on this dumb blog’s home page!
The paper this post is about (P)
P- Ragusa, A., Svelato, A., Santacroce, C., Catalano, P., Notarstefano, V., Carnevali, O., Papa, F., Rongioletti, M.C.A., Baiocco, F., Draghi, S., et al. (2021). Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta. Environment International 146, 106274.
1- VVAA (2020). Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics: Global Lessons and Research to Inspire Action and Guide Policy Change. Environment, U.N.
2- Machado, A.A. de S., Kloas, W., Zarfl, C., Hempel, S., and Rillig, M.C. (2018). Microplastics as an emerging threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Global Change Biology 24, 1405–1416.
3- Andrady, A.L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62, 1596–1605.
4- Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., and Law, K.L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances 3, e1700782.
5- VVAA (2016), Sources, Fate and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment (Part 2). GESAMP