Life with Microplastics, Maybe Not Fantastic

Barbie Girl (the song) told us life in plastic is fantastic, but the knowledge that we’re swimming in microplastics gives us reason for second thoughts. These tiny particles of plastic are accumulating in the oceans (even the Arctic), in the air, in the soil, in our food, and even in our bodies.

This is an emerging issue and the health effects of these microplastics have not been fully described by any means. But we ingest them, inhale them, and contact with them through our skin. The health concerns they raise relate to particle toxicity, oxidative stress, inflammation, immune and endocrine disruption. Evidence suggests they may contribute to rising obesity prevalence.

In short, we need to learn more and cannot assume that these microplastics are innocuous.

Preferring Action Over Fear Mongering

Malcolm Hudson, a professor of environmental science at the University of Southampton, suggests investing our energy in action to reduce the accumulation of plastics, rather than amplifying our fears:

“I’m sitting at home in my office and I’m probably breathing in some plastic fibres from the clothes that I’m wearing, and from the carpet on the stairs just outside my office. And I’ve probably ingested some plastic in my lunch, which is an unsettling thought but it’s probably not doing me a great deal of harm,

“We’ve evolved to deal with inhalation and ingestion of impurities. That’s why we have complex respiratory systems and all sorts of trapping devices to stop particles going into our lungs. It’s why we have an immune system that’s set up to deal with small foreign bodies. It’s why we have a digestive system that doesn’t let larger impurities get into our system – they just pass through.”

But Hudson cautions that the accumulation of these microplastics unabated will become a serious issue for human health. Likewise, environmental scientist Mark Taylor advises:

“Apply the precautionary principle: in the history of environmental toxicology, early concerns were usually born out. So let’s take an approach that minimises risk. I don’t think we can eliminate it.”

Click here for more on minimizing these risks and here for further perspective.

Barbie, photograph by horantheworld, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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July 18, 2023

2 Responses to “Life with Microplastics, Maybe Not Fantastic”

  1. July 18, 2023 at 10:24 am, Allen Browne said:


    Obesogens affecting the energy regulation system is an enticing theory. Now the question is what to do about it?


    • July 18, 2023 at 12:47 pm, Ted said:

      Two thoughts:
      1. Get a better handle on it.
      2. Blunt the trend of the increasing environmental burden.