A new international study led by researchers reveals that there is not enough research data on the types of effects of nano- and microplastics on the health of newborns, or during pregnancy and childhood. The relevant research team has developed guidelines for research, policymakers and industry on how to pay attention to the risks caused by nano- and microplastics, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. It is also recommended that parents reduce the use of plastics.

The review article mentions that the chemicals associated with plastics have already been studied, but not the plastic particles. The toxicological study of the effects of plastics has also not been particularly targeted on the youngest age groups, even if their immunological defense mechanisms are not yet developed and the phases of growth and development make them very vulnerable.

Plastic breaks down into microplastics, which are typically less than 5mm, and nanoplastics, which are less than 0.001mm in size. Micro- and nanoplastics are so small that they can enter the lungs and placenta, also carrying health-damaging chemicals. The review article looked at the absorption of plastics through the breath, placenta, digestive tract, lactation, and skin. In particular, the use of infant formula, bottles and plastic packaging was examined, as well as how plastics can be absorbed by fetuses during pregnancy, or by a newborn or child. Regulations and restrictions in terms of the use of plastics in these age groups were also examined. 37 research publications were found on this subject, which is very few.

There is no information on how microplastics are absorbed by children – caution and recommendations are needed

Currently, there is no research data on the amount of children who absorb microplastics and there is not much research on the subject. However, some studies estimate that children are already absorbing microplastics during the fetal period, which researchers find alarming. There are also no studies on how micro- and nanoplastics are absorbed at school, or for example when children are playing on the floor, during which the microplastics are absorbed by dust or by layer materials. The difficulty of studying particularly small particles with modern technology is one of the reasons for the lack of research on this topic.

Researchers are very concerned about microplastics in placentas. “In the near future, we urgently need to study the effects of exposure to nano- and microplastics on the development of fetuses and children, as well as the journey of plastics from baby bottles and packaging inside the body, and their effects on children,” explains research team member Professor Arja Rautio from the University of Oulu. “It is also important to raise awareness of plastics among parents and authorities, as well as to reduce the use of plastics, as we do not yet know their long-term effects on children.”

Exposure to environmental chemicals, such as plastics, during pregnancy, as a newborn, and as a child is an important research topic for the multidisciplinary and international research team, and one that requires social communication, global attention and actions. According to the researchers, the use of chemicals harmful to development should be restricted or prohibited in order to avoid exposure.

We believe that infants and children are disproportionately exposed to nano- and microplastics – just as they are to other environmental chemicals – due to their age-specific behaviors and growth. Early childhood is a critical time for brain development, so that worries us. »

Kam Sripada PhD, lead author of the article and neuroscientist, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Conclusions and guidelines for policy makers, businesses and families

Parents:

– Make sure children’s food has as little contact with plastic as possible.

– Clean regularly with water, as dust may contain microplastics.

– Choose personal hygiene products that contain less plastic.

– Are you renovating? Choose building materials that do not contain PVC or other plastics.

Decision-makers, authorities and industrialists:

– The UN’s list of children’s rights includes the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and one of the principles of sustainable development is the goal of reducing the amount of health-damaging chemicals in the environment.

– Because there is so little information on the risks that nano- and microplastics pose to children, we must respect the precautionary principle and support monitoring and research on the subject.

– National and local operators have the power to reduce exposure to plastics.

– Regulations regarding different plastics such as toys and baby bottles or the management of plastic waste vary locally and internationally.

– Industry and companies that manufacture plastic products for children and women should responsibly investigate the extent to which products produce nano- and microplastics and ensure that emission is minimal.

Source:

Journal reference:

Sripada, K. et al. (2022) A children’s health perspective on nano- and microplastics. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi.org/10.1289/EHP9086.