Amsterdam, 8 October 2019 – During the Plastic Health Summit on 3 October, scientists presented the first research results on the effects of plastic particles on human health. They also expressed their views on how the precautionary principle relates to their findings. Some say that more research is needed first, others say that there are enough early warnings and that we cannot wait to take action until all the risks have been examined in detail.
The presented preliminary research results show that immune cells attack microplastics, and that they end up dying, that the growth of the airways is hindered by nylon fibers and that microplastics probably penetrate the placenta. These are the results of laboratory tests in which high concentrations are used. The studies expose previously unobserved mechanisms, without being able to determine the extent to which these mechanisms currently occur in our bodies. Earlier this year, the Dutch financer of health research ZonMw made 1.6 million euro available for fifteen short-term studies. The most pressing, but never previously investigated, questions were aimed to be answered by these studies.
At the end of the Plastic Health Summit, ZonMw stated that the importance of the studies was so great that 1 million euros of extra research money were made available. The scientists were served at their beck and call. In a read-out joint statement, they argue for more (follow-up) research to better understand the consequences of microplastics on our health.
Measures already needed
Some ZonMw researchers kept a low profile as to whether their investigation was a reason to take action. Fransien van Dijk (University of Groningen) advises citizens to ventilate their well-insulated homes often and also to vacuum more often so that we inhale less plastic fibers in our homes. Heather Leslie (Vrije Universiteit) characterized the research results as early warnings, alarm bells, which now justify social intervention in the light of increasing plastic production. After all, the concentration of microplastics in the environment and therefore likely in our bodies is increasing exponentially. The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes to turn the tide.
Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: ‘Perhaps the most important result of the Plastic Health Summit, is that nobody can any longer deny the potential danger of microplastics to our health’.