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Monday, May 31, 2021

OF PLASTICS & HUMAN PLACENTA: MEET THE "PLASTICENTA" (Pt 4/4 - PLASTIC POLLUTION)

Keywords: plastics, plastic, microplastics, mesoplastics, macroplastics, megaplastics, nanoplastics, pollution, pollutants, environment, fetus, foetus, placenta, placentas, birth, women, pregnancy, health, human health, food, food chain, food safety, additives, plasticizer, plasticizers, ocean, oceans, marine fauna, sea, seas, zooplankton, shellfish, fish, fauna, animals, Anthropocene

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Part 3 is here

(Read other plastic related stories here & here)

 

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution (by @sciencemug)
[Frog pic, by Alexas_Fotos is a
free to use (for editorial use only) image (source: pixabay.com); adapted by @sciencemug]
 

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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 rolling, just to see what happens, a perfect, but surprisingly less expensive than one could think, replica of the dices Einstein’s god actually left on the cosmic green table once done with them, 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 twerking is to elegance. 

Today I’m gonna tell you the last part (the first three are here, here, aaand here) of a story about human placentas and plastics! 

A group of Italian researchers (aka the Italian Brains, aka the ITBs) finds microplastics fragments (MPs), that is plastic particles smaller than half a centimeter, in placentas of women in good health and who have had normal pregnancies and deliveries.

The study is lead by Medical Doctor Antonio Ragusa, Head of the Department of Woman, Mother and Newborn of the San Giovanni Calibíta Fatebenefratelli, in Rome, and Dr. Ragusa and colleagues’ research is told in a paper (P) published on the science journal Environment International. 

Aand, dear reader, at the end of the post be sure not to miss reading the answers kind Doctor Ragusa gave to this blog’s three questions for the "Oddities & Bloopers: The Researcher's Fun Corner". 

Oook, so, people, read the previous posts to learn what the Italian Brains did to finally make their troubling discovery.

I just remind you that microplastics most probably enter human body via inhalation and ingestion, and that they are dangerous for human health, and, of course, for a developing fetus. 

Aaaaand in this fourth and final part of the post, then, we’re gonna find out how massive and widespread plastic presence in the environment be and therefore how often and easily you humans are exposed to plastic pollution, and how harmful this kind of pollution be to life-forms in general, and you sapiens people in particular.

Let’s start with the “massive and widespread plastic presence in the environment” topic.

Fish contaminated by microplastics
Fish and the microplastics (by @sciencemug)
[Fish pic, by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]

In the last 70 years or so, the growth of plastic production has gone faster than that of any other human-made material, with the exceptions of steel and cement, which are widely used in the construction sector [1_2-1-Geyer], a sector that, with a world population roughly tripled in the last 70 years, for sure worked at full speed and needed a lot of those two things.

Anyway, plastics: their usage increased about 25 times in the last four decades only [2_2-de-souza-machado]; in 2017 plastic annual production reached 380 million metric tons (Mt) (1Mt is 1000 kilograms, a Tesla Model X weighs about 2400 Kg) [2_2-de-souza-machado] and growing (in 1950, when the massive plastic production era began, it was 2 million tons [1_2-1-Geyer]); in 2016 between 4% and 6% of all oil and gas used in Europe was used for plastics production [3_1], and up to 2015, humans produced 83 hundreds millions metric tons (Mt) of plastics, in doing so creating about 63 hundreds millions metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste. Of this dizzying amount of plastic waste, only a tiny 9% was recycled (given also that the recycling thing wasn’t basically a thing before the ‘80s of last century) while the 12% of it was incinerated (also incineration was negligible before the ‘80s), and, even worst, a huge 79% of all this plastic garbage ended up accumulating in landfills or the natural environment. “If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050[1_2-1-Geyer].

So, people, to sum up: as of 2015, the equivalent of 62,376.24 Eiffel Towers of plastic waste have been produced (you horizontally line up all those Eiffel Towers and you make half Earth's circumference), and the plastic garbage equivalent of 179,219.1 Statues Of Liberty ended up in dumps or the natural environment (you pile up all those Statues Of Liberty and you reach the top of Mount Everest), aaand these landfills dumped plastic-waste-Statues Of Liberty could become almost half a million in 2050. 

Now, as for the recycling thing, at present, plastic recycling only postpone, rather than eliminate, plastic dumping [1_2-1-Geyer]. “Environmentally successful recycling [indeed] avoids primary production and landfilling of [plastic. In other words, successful recycling means that] for every tonne of recycled material […] produced, a tonne of [brand new plastic] will not be produced”, and, simply, this is not happening [4_2-1-2].

Besides, dear reader, an actually successful recycling system is paramount, given that, at present, “[n]one of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable” [1_2-1-Geyer], where a biodegradable polymer is that stuff that living things, usually microorganisms, are able to degrade “into small molecules [(]such as CO2, CH4 and H2O[)]” [5_3-4-1_GESAMP] a hella lot faster than common plastics.

And, oh, pal, don’t be fooled, the so called bio-plastics or bio-polymers ain’t all the same, and, above all, only few of them are actually biodegradable [5_3-4-1_GESAMP].

So, all in all folks, there’s a lot of semi-eternal plastic waste around, in fact there’s so much of it, and it is so ubiquitous, that plastic waste has been proposed as a geological indicator” [1_2-1-Geyer] of the present proposed geologic era, the so called Anthropocene (which replaces the Holocene) (see Crutzen,2002). 

Now, so far, dear reader, you heard about landfills, but plastic pollution is really everywhere: not only in terrestrial habitats, but also in freshwater ecosystems, and of course in the oceans: indeed plastic debris - defined as “plastic items occurring in natural environments without fulfilling an intended function” [6_3-Hartmann] - “has been found in all major ocean basins [from the Arctic to the Antarctic [7_2-3-2-UNEP]], with an estimated 4 to 12 million metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste generated on land entering the marine environment in 2010 alone” [1_2-1-Geyer]. This means more than 5 trillion (that is 5 billion billions) pieces of plastics waste are sailing the oceans [8_4-Barboza], with more than 80% of all this ocean plastic pollution that has a land-based origin [9_3-4-2-Eunomia], being mainly stuff from “construction, household goods, packaging, coastal tourism, and food and drink packaging [plus] cosmetics and personal care products, textiles and clothing ([as in] synthetic fibers), terrestrial transport ([as in] dust from tires), and plastic producers and fabricators ([as in] plastic resin pellets used in plastics manufacture)[7_2-3-2-UNEP].

Shark and the microplastics
Shark and the microplastics (by @sciencemug)
[Shark pic, by creozavr, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]
 
The remaining 20% of ocean plastic pollution comes from the sea itself, mostly from fishing activities, like, for example, lost and discarded fishing gear (1.15 million tons per year) [8_3-4-2-Eunomia]. But also “aquaculture structures can produce significant quantities of plastic debris if damaged by storms [7_2-3-2-UNEP] and there’s shipping litter too (600 thousands tons per year [9_3-4-2-Eunomia]). Besides94% of the plastic that enters the ocean ends up on the sea floor. There is now on average an estimated 70kg of plastic in each square kilometer of sea bed” [9_3-4-2-Eunomia]: so, well, this means that basically now the oceans’ floor is covered by a plastic carpet...

Ok, moving on, you, dear informed reader, probably have heard of the infamous five big oceanic gyres in the Indian Ocean, North and South Atlantic, and North and South Pacific, gyres that entrap islands of floating pieces of plastics [7_2-3-2-UNEP]. Nevertheless, mate, barely 1% of all marine plastic debris isfound floating at or near the ocean surface, with an average global concentration of less than 1kg/km2 [(]in the North Pacific Gyre [it peaks at] 18kg/km2[)] [9_3-4-2-Eunomia] therefore this is a much, much lower plastic garbage concentration than that estimated existing on the beaches around the world, which is a stunning 2000kg of plastic crap per square km [9_3-4-2-Eunomia]. By the way, folks, this means that, given the numbers, to get rid of beach plastics litter, and avoid like that its return at large on the oceans waters, well, can actually be a more effective, simpler and cheaper strategy than pick up plastics already floating in mid-oceans [9_3-4-2-Eunomia].

Oh, by the way two the return of the digressions, science literature is reporting since the ‘70s of last century that plastics are polluting oceans, but only with the new millennium the attention to the problem rose, and given oceans cover about the 71% of Earth’s surface and harbor, among many other essential things, a huge chunk of humans food supplies, well, it is definitely a good thing that attention to this problem rose.

Now, dear reader, let’s specify a few things before continuing this nightmarish travel on global plastic pollution, ok? 

Marine plastic debris (and plastic litter in general) can be made of primary sources of pollution (meaning they are plastics, or pieces of plastics, produced for a specific use and then turned into debris), and/or secondary sources (meaning, they are microplastics produced as the result of degradation and fragmentation of bigger pieces of primary plastics) [5_3-4-1_GESAMP].

Said that, let’s sum up what kinds of plastic litter you find in the oceans and where they come from, but be aware, dear reader, there’s still no common ground among the scientific community about names and measures. Anyway, let's refer, now, to what said by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) that is “an advisory body, established in 1969, that advises the United Nations (UN) system on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection” (see).

Ok, then. According to GESAMP, the marine plastic litter is made of: microplastics (plastics less than half a centimeter in size), mesoplastics (less than 2.5 cm), macroplastics (less than 1 meter) and, finally, megaplastics (more than 1 m) [5_3-4-1-GESAMP].

Microplastics are both primary sources (like resin beads, microbeads from personal care products etc) and secondary ones (like textile fibers and tire dust etc) [5_3-4-1-GESAMP].

Mesoplastics too are both primary and secondary sources (examples are bottle caps and various fragments) [5_3-4-1-GESAMP]. 

As per the macroplastics, they are just primary sources, mainly lost items from maritime activities or from rivers (like plastic bags, food and other packaging, fishing floats, buoys, balloons and so on) [5_3-4-1-GESAMP]. 

Finally, megaplastics too are just primary sources, being abandoned gear or the results of catastrophic events (for example rope, boat hulls, plastic films from agriculture, abandoned fishing nets and traps etc, and, by the way, ghost fishing by abandoned or lost fishing equipment causes important losses of potential food for humans [7_2-3-2-UNEP]) [5_3-4-1-GESAMP]. 

So, people, to recap, plastic litter ranging in size from less than 5mm to more than 1 meter pollutes world’s lands and waters, and the issue is so huge that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says plastic pollution is a problem with a “scale and degree [...] comparable to that of climate change” [11_2-3-Lusher].

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution (by @sciencemug)
[Running man pic, by OpenClipart-Vectors, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]
 

The result of this pollution is, for example, the existence of airborne microplastics that can be breathed in by humans, and end up in the lungs, as showed by lung biopsies [12_4-1-Prata] and as confirmed by a 2018 study that analyzed atmospheric fallout in Greater Paris [12_4-1-Prata], an urban area that includes, besides Paris, more than 130 towns around la ville lumière, with a total of more than 7millions inhabitants and a surface of about 800 square kilometers.

Another example of plastic pollution pervasiveness is reported in a 2019 study which finds an average of 20 microplastics (ranging from 50 to 500 µm in size) of 9 plastic types per 10g of human stool of each of the 8 healthy men (age from 33 to 65 years) coming from Europe and Asia. This study, therefore, shows that people involuntarily ingest plastics from different sources [13_5-Schwabl].

But what can be the sources of such plastic ingestions?

Well pal, a very big one’s domestic dust [8_4-Barboza], as said in the previous post. Then there’s, of course, the food chain.

Microplastics can bind to micro and macroalgae (seaweed) [11_2-3-Lusher] and are gulped down by a wide range of living creatures. Plastic is consumed by zooplankton (which mostly eats phytoplankton and in turn is eaten by larger animals like whales (see)), so, for starter, there’s plastic in the diet of stuff that is basically the bottom of the marine food chain.

For instance, the Pacific Krill (Krill being the most well-known kind of zooplankton) has been found “to ingest its staple algae as well as polyethylene beads [of] about the same size range with no evident foraging bias” [14_3-2-Andrady]. 

Moreover, there are plastic eaters also among warms, crustaceans, mollusks (i.e. shellfish), fishes (like, just to mention two of them, sardines and sprats [8_4-Barboza]), turtles, birds and cetaceans [11_2-3-Lusher].

In total, by 2017, more than 220 different species in nature have been reported to consume microplastics [11_2-3-Lusher]. 

But, dear reader, let’s have fun, so to speak, and dig deeper into details, ok?

As just for the marine environment, for instance, microplastics have been found in shellfish and fishes of commercial interest as food from: China, Hong Kong, Indian Coast, Oceania, South Pacific, Persian Gulf, Read Sea, Middle East, Europe, Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas, Atlantic Ocean, South America, USA [8_4-Barboza].

These pieces of plastics have sizes ranging from more than 9 micrometers up to more than 20 millimeters, and they go from fibers, to film, pellets, fragments, sheets, filaments, fishing threads, styrofoam, nylon and hard plastic [8_4-Barboza]. 

And these microplastics have been found in the muscles, skin, gut, soft tissues, liver, stomach, gills, hepatopancreas, valves and whole body of the animals [8_4-Barboza].

Aaaaand in some species of shellfishes the microplastics’ level arrived to be of almost 60 particles per individual, with cases in which the 83% of the animal’s species individuals tested had microplastics in them [8_4-Barboza].

And in fishes it gets worst, since the maximum number of microplastics found was 552 per individual, with several species with 100% of their individuals that tested positive for microplastics presence in them [8_4-Barboza].

How can it be, you may ask dear reader, that it be so common that plastics end up inside all those animal species? 

Well, pal, microplastics' uptake can easily happen in many types of marine organisms.

The most common, but not the only one, entrance way is ingestion - since the plastic fragments can be mistaken for a prey. Moreover plastics can penetrate into the animals via passive water filtration or deposit feeding activity [8_4-Barboza], that is the feeding strategy adopted by those animals, like some marine warms, which “move along the surface or burrow within soft sediments and ingest some part of the sediment, digesting and assimilating [like that] some of the nonliving and living organic matter” (see) (and remember what said before, dear reader, there are 70kg of plastic debris per square kilometers on the seafloors of the globe [9_3-4-2-Eunomia]). 

To be crystal clear, people, plastic fragments have been found in seafood “sold for human consumption, as well as in fish and shellfish purchased from markets.[8_4-Barboza].

Moreover, besides wild animals, also the ones grown in aquaculture systems swallow plastics. For instance “bivalves cultured in estuaries and coastal lagoons are prone to ingesting microplastics because the [plastic pollution of] water and sediments of many such areas[8_4-Barboza]. Besides, aquaculture systems feed their fishes, shrimps and other farmed species with materials obtained from animals that, in turn, may be polluted by microplastics [8_4-Barboza]. 

So, folks, to recap: humans eat fish, crustaceans like shrimps, and bivalves like mussels and oysters. And all these food has plastic in it, therefore, in the end, humans eat plastics, on a regular basis.

Food contamination by microplastics
Food plastic pollution (by @sciencemug)
[Dish pic, by an_vision, is a free pic (source: Unsplash); plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
is a free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]
 

Ok, now I know what you may say: “oh no big deal, I rarely eat stuff coming from the seas anyway

Well pal, sorry to break it to you like that, but microplastics have been found in a whole lot of other stuff people routinely eat and drink. 

Let’s see: beer (100% of the samples tested, up to 109 fragments per liter), honey (100% of the samples tested, up to 166 fragments per kg), sugar (100% of nearly all samples tested, up to 217 fragments per kg), salt (100% of the samples tested, up to 681 fragments per kg), drinking and mineral water (100% of the samples tested, up to 241 fragments per liter) and tap and bottle water (81% of the samples tested, up to 61 fragments per liter) [8_4-Barboza]. 

The size of the pollutant plastics found in these food and drink products ranged from 1 micrometer to 5 millimeters, and they comprised fibers, granules, pellets, fragments, sheets, and films.

Finally, like for sea related food, all in all these plastic polluted food and drink products came from all around the globe: China, India, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Uganda, Marocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Canada, USA, Mexico, Europe, Switzerland, Scotland, Russia [8_4-Barboza].

On top of all of this, the other scary thing here, is not only the global size of the problem, but also the fact that plastic pollution can easily cross food webs, therefore there are risks of accumulation of such plastics, and an increased risk of toxicity, above all, for top predators [8_4-Barboza]. And the last time I checked, dear human readers, well, you were still the ones. 

Aaaand at this point, done with the deep exploration of the how bad and widespread the plastic pollution issue be, weeell folks, let’s go and answer to the second question mentioned in the beginning of the post, that is how harmful plastic pollution is to life-forms in general, and to you sapiens people in particular.

Aaand the answering starts right after the commercial break!

 

Plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic

Plastic Global Pollution rendition
Plastiphere (by @sciencemug)
[Earth pic, by AlLes, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]

plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic everywhere, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic, plastics...

You have been presented the visual rendition of global plastic pollution sponsored by the DWMHPPCFSW, theDude We May Have a Plastic Problem Committee For a Selfier World”. 

 

Sooo, dear reader, now we go with the effects (potential and found) of plastics on living things, but first let’s add something important.

 
Plastics can do arm not only by physically blocking or damaging the feeding appendages or digestive tract of the animals [15-3-3-NOAA], or entrapping them (like dolphins or seals entangled in fishing gear [7]), or filling their stomach with something that isn’t food (think, for instance, of that of dead albatross full of plastic objects [7]). 
 
Plastics are dangerous also in a more subtle way. 

Microplastics (but also mesoplastics), indeed, in the oceans, may be receptacles of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) [14_3-2-Andrady], like phenanthrene, for example, a white/yellow crystalline substance that you can find in fresh crude oil, and that is “toxic to crustaceans, fish, mussels, gastropods, and marine diatoms [and that] is also reported to be [a] potent inhibitor of gap junction intercellular communication [read part three of this post about this kind of cellular communication], [and a] human skin photosensitizer mild allergen” (see).

Now, these POPs are universally present in sea water, but usually at very low concentrations. Nevertheless, they are picked up by plastic debris, which, like that, concentrate these pollutants to levels several orders of magnitude higher than those of the waters. And, when the sea creatures, some of which later become humans’ food, ingest such POPs enriched plastics, well, the sea creatures get a very high dose of these nasty pollutants [14_3-2-Andrady]. 

But there’s more. 

Microplastics are vessels and human bodies’ Trojan horses also for plastics’ very own additives, namely chemicals added on purpose during plastic production, like, just to mention two of ‘em, plasticizers (used since the 1930’s to soften and provide plastics with flexibility [16_3-2-1-Latini]) and phthalates (used to improve flexibility and durability [7] [7_2-3-2-UNEP]). It is worth to know that “microplastics can contain on average 4% of additives” [17_6-EFSA]. 

But, besides the above mentioned stuff, microplastics’ surface, during their life-cycle, may harbor and be carrier also of environmental pollutants (one example are toxic metals like heavy metal mercury), of exotic invasive species, and even of pathogens, like disease carrying bacteria like those of cholera, just to mention one [8_4-Barboza]. 

Ok. All of these things said, let’s see what are the nasty effects of microplastics on animals in general.

The negative health effects somehow linked to microplastic exposure on animals are: mortality, increased immune response, decreased predatory performance, changes in behavioral responses and reduced swimming performance, decreased food consumption, weight loss, decreased metabolic rate, reduced allocation of energy for growth and decreased growth rate, decreased fecundity and fertilization, decreased and larval abnormalities, depletion of energy reserves (some marine warms, for example, in a lab experiment, suffered a stunning 50% energy depletion [18-Wright]), and negative impacts on subsequent generations, neurotoxicity and intestinal damage [11_2-3-Lusher], [8_4-Barboza]. 

Aaand once heard all these beautiful things, let’s hear now the negative impact microplastics have specifically on humans, ok, dear human reader? Ok! Buckle up!

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution (by @sciencemug)
[Woman pic, by unkown, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]
 

But, folks, bear in mind that the negative effects of microplastics on humans’ health are still under investigation and arestill controversial and not well understood[8_4-Barboza].

So emphasis on the “may and could” from now on. 

Ok. Let’s begin.  

If inhaled or ingested, microplastics may accumulate and exert localized particle toxicity by inducing or enhancing an immune response” [19-Wright-Kelly], more specifically microplastics and nanoplastics (meaning plastics smaller than 1/10 of a micron [8_4-Barboza], although there is still a debate about nomenclature, as said before [6_3-Hartmann]) could lead to “immunotoxicity and consequently trigger adverse effects (i.e. immunosuppression, immune activation and abnormal inflammatory responses)[8_4-Barboza]. 

Micro and nanoplastics could be cytotoxic, meaning they have the potential to be toxic at a cellular level [8_4-Barboza]. 

Moreover, the above mentioned phthalates may have negative effects on testicular development [7_2-3-2-UNEP], and plasticizers and heavy metals associated with microplastics, and plastics in general, are among the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), meaning “compounds that interfere with any aspect of endogenous hormones, including their production, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action, or elimination” [20-Lee]. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can play a role in decreased fertility, decreased semen quality, increased birth anomalies, hormone-related cancers, problems with neurodevelopment, metabolic diseases (like obesity and diabetes) and other funny stuff [20-Lee]. 

All in all, the compounds microplastics are vessels of, may be, among other things, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxic compounds [8_4-Barboza]. 

Now, it is to say that, in general, humans get rid of > 90% of the ingested microplastics via feces [17_6-EFSA] (so, next time you buy a fake plastic poop, well, think of this), and only the pieces of plastic smaller than 150 μm “may translocate from the gut cavity to the lymph and circulatory system, causing systemic exposure. However, the absorption of these microplastics is expected to be limited (≤0.3%). Only microplastics with size ≤ 20 μm would be able to penetrate into organs while the smallest fraction (0.1 > 10 μm) would be able to access all organs cross cell membranes, the blood-brain barrier and the placenta[8_4-Barboza]. 

Aaaaand, voilà, dear reader, back to the placenta! 

Fetus and plastic pollution
Fetus and the microplastics (by @sciencemug)
[Baby pic, by PaliGraficas, and plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug]

 
But before seeing what are the potential effects of microplastics also on a developing fetus, let’s conclude the tale of Doctor Ragusa and colleagues’ (aka the Italian Brains, aka the ITBs) study.

The Italian researchers, I remind you, find microplastics ranging from 5 to 10 micrometers in size in human placentas. And they find them in almost all the samples tested, 6 out of 8. Meaning 2 samples tested negative. 

So… Why is that? 

Well, the ITBs say that various physiological conditions and genetic characteristics of the pregnant women, together with their different habits and lifestyles may have determined the rate of success of the microplastic to cross the placenta (P). For instance, the ITBs say, microplastic degree of success in their trip across the placenta can be linked also to drug transporter proteins and the fact that their presence and activity level are strictly regulated by multiple factors and vary “both within human populations [...] and also during gestation[21_9-Staud-Cekova]. 

Ok folks, done with pinpointing this, let’s find out what are the Italian Brains’ thoughts about the potential impact of microplastics on a developing fetus. 

Dr. Ragusa and colleagues state this: “potentially, MPs, and in general microparticles, may alter several cellular regulating pathways in placenta, such as immunity mechanisms during pregnancy, growth-factor signalling during and after implantation, functions of [...] receptors governing maternal foetal communication, signalling between the embryo and the uterus, and trafficking of uterine [immune] cells during normal pregnancy. All these effects may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes including preeclampsia [(namely a “pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorders [in which] the mother’s high blood pressure reduces the blood supply to the fetus, which may get less oxygen and fewer nutrients” (see)] and fetal growth restriction(P). 

Sooo, dear reader, that’s the full story of a bunch of researcher and their fascinating scientific microplastic-placenta related quest. 

Now, as anticipated, Dr. Ragusa kindly agreed to answer a few questions this dumb blog asked him, and now I’m gonna show you such answers for the:


"Oddities & Bloopers: The Researcher's Fun Corner"

 

Dr. Antonio Ragusa's picture  
 

SM- What's the oddest/strangest/weirdest/funniest thing/mistake happened/made to/by you (or to/by your colleagues) during the making of the paper described in the post or during your life in science in general?

- Eng - One of the hardest things in the study was organizing the plastic-free placentas harvesting protocol. Eventually, when everything was ready, and we had the first placenta arriving (the mother was giving birth), we realized that there were no plastic-free containers in the hospital! So we stopped everything and lost the placenta of the first donor mother. I tried to look for plastic-free containers from sanitary material suppliers, I got help from my hospital pharmacist, but we weren't able to find them. It seems incredible, but plastic is everywhere! So I tried to look for plastic-free containers outside the sanitary circuit and finally, in a suburban shop in Rome run by a couple of Chinese shopkeepers, I found some small glass salt shakers with metal caps; so I bought thirty of them, with great joy of the lady who sold them to me, who asked me if I had a restaurant. I jokingly replied that I did not manage a restaurant, but that I was a scientist and thanks to those salt shakers I would have gotten the Nobel Prize, so the seller wanted to take a photo with me, future Nobel Prize laureate thanks to her. 

- Ita - Una delle cose più difficili dello studio è stata organizzare il protocollo di prelievo delle placente senza plastica. Alla fine, quando era tutto pronto e avevamo la prima placenta in arrivo (la mamma stava partorendo), ci siamo resi conto che in ospedale non c'erano contenitori senza plastica! Allora bloccammo tutto e perdemmo la placenta della prima mamma donatrice. Io provai a cercare contenitori plastic-free dai fornitori di materiale sanitario, mi feci aiutare dal farmacista del mio ospedale, ma non fummo in grado di trovarli. Sembra incredibile, ma la plastica è ovunque! Così provai a cercare contenitori senza plastica al di fuori del circuito sanitario e finalmente, in un negozio periferico di Roma gestito da una coppia di commercianti cinesi, trovai delle piccole saliere in vetro con il cappuccio in metallo; allora ne acquistai trenta, con grande gioia della venditrice che mi chiese se gestissi un ristorante. Risposi scherzando che non gestivo un ristorante, ma che ero uno scienziato e grazie a quelle saliere avrei preso il premio Nobel, allora la venditrice volle farsi una foto ricordo insieme a me futuro ipotetico premio Nobel grazie a lei.

SM- Besides for having the possibility of doing/making/witnessing odd/strange/weird/funny things, Dr. Ragusa, why science?

Science today is the equivalent of art in the sixteenth century, during the Renaissance. Back then, and for many centuries on, if you wanted to discover the truth and question yourself about the important things in life, then art was the answer. Men of the caliber of Leonardo, Raphael, etc. are the testimony of this. Today this role of discovery and innovation rests with scientists. 

La scienza oggi è l’equivalente dell’arte nel cinquecento, durante il Rinascimento. Allora, e per molti secoli a seguire, se volevi scoprire la verità e interrogarti sulle cose importanti della vita, l’arte era la risposta. Uomini del calibro di Leonardo, Raffaello, etc sono la testimonianza di questo. Oggi questo ruolo di scoperta e innovazione spetta agli scienziati. 

SM- In such hard times, doctor - that, I imagine, for a person in your line of work can be even harder than for the rest of us - is there something that makes things lighter, for you, or, at least, a bit less difficult? 

Yes, the profound awareness that everything will end, and if everything doesn't end, then you yourself eventually end. I said profound awareness, which is different from having an idea of things, it means that this concept is for me a rule of life, not a vague idea. 

Sì, la profonda consapevolezza che tutto finirà, e se tutto non finisce, allora finisci tu stesso. Ho detto profonda consapevolezza, che è diverso da avere un'idea delle cose, significa che questo concetto è per me una regola di vita, non una vaga idea. 

SM- Thank you doctor, and good luck with everything! 

 

Oooook folks that’s really it for this post and research paper… Or is it not?  

Just think, dear reader, you spent four posts hearing of plastic: plastic here plastic there… But, in the end, are you sure to really know what plastic actually be? 

Hehe! Well, in case you don’t, here I am for ya pal! 

Plastics is not one single material” [3_1], it’s a whole bunch of them “derived from organic products such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil” [3_1] (as said above, in 2016, in Europe between 4% to 6% of all the oil and gas was used to produce plastics [3_1]).

Meet the Plastics
Meet the plastics (by @sciencemug)
[Plastics symbols pic by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
are free to use image (source: pixabay.com); all pics adapted by @sciencemug
 

Now, writing this post exhausted me, so I will use a quote with other quotes within, for a more specific portrait and definition of plastics. The main quote is from a 2017 paper by de Souza Machado et al: “[a]ll plastics are characterized by high plasticity (i.e. the capacity to change in shape in response to applied forces) at least at one point of their manufacture. More than 80% of the plastics produced are thermoplastics [like polyethylene or PVC, while the other 20% are thermosets, like silicone or polyester [21_1]. Thermoplastics] are obtained through polymerization of monomers into high-molecular-weight chains known as a thermoplastic polymer” [2_2-de-souza-machado] end quotes.

The following and final step of plastics production is to modify the physical properties of the polymer matrix (like melting, and pelletization) and its chemical properties too (meaning the polymer matrix is mixed with the already mentioned additives such as plasticizers, antioxidants, clarifiers, colorants, etc.). 

So, pal, to sum up, plastic products have a pretty complex chemical composition, aaand malleability, low costs, durability, and versatility are their trademark features. 

Ooook folks, it’s really all for now, see you next time and till then, 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!

Ciao!

 

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. 
 
Bibliography
1- Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R., and Law, K.L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances 3, e1700782.
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.
4- Geyer, R., Kuczenski, B., Zink, T., and Henderson, A. (2016). Common Misconceptions about Recycling. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20, 1010–1017.
6- Hartmann, N.B., Hüffer, T., Thompson, R.C., Hassellöv, M., Verschoor, A., Daugaard, A.E., Rist, S., Karlsson, T., Brennholt, N., Cole, M., et al. (2019). Are We Speaking the Same Language? 
Recommendations for a Definition and Categorization Framework for Plastic Debris. Environ. Sci. Technol. 53, 1039–1047.
8- Barboza, L.G.A., Dick Vethaak, A., Lavorante, B.R.B.O., Lundebye, A.-K., and Guilhermino, L. (2018). Marine microplastic debris: An emerging issue for food security, food safety and human health. Marine Pollution Bulletin 133, 336–348.
10- Ooops! Hehe, sorry, 10 doesn't exist...
11- Lusher, A.L., Welden, N.A., Sobral, P., and Cole, M. (2017). Sampling, isolating and identifying microplastics ingested by fish and invertebrates. Anal. Methods 9, 1346–1360.
12- Prata, J.C. (2018). Airborne microplastics: Consequences to human health? Environmental Pollution 234, 115–126.
13- Schwabl, P., Köppel, S., Königshofer, P., Bucsics, T., Trauner, M., Reiberger, T., and Liebmann, B. (2019). Detection of Various Microplastics in Human Stool. Ann Intern Med 171, 453–457.
14- Andrady, A.L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62, 1596–1605.
16- Latini, G., De Felice, C., and Verrotti, A. (2004). Plasticizers, infant nutrition and reproductive health. Reproductive Toxicology 19, 27–33.
17- EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) (2016). Presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in food, with particular focus on seafood. EFSA Journal 14, e04501.
18- Wright, S.L., Rowe, D., Thompson, R.C., and Galloway, T.S. (2013). Microplastic ingestion decreases energy reserves in marine worms. Curr Biol 23, R1031-1033.
19- Wright, S.L., and Kelly, F.J. (2017). Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue? Environ. Sci. Technol. 51, 6634–6647.
21- Staud, F., and Ceckova, M. (2015). Regulation of drug transporter expression and function in the placenta. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology 11, 533–555.

Crutzen, 2002- Crutzen, P.J. (2002). Geology of mankind. Nature 415, 23–23.

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