Scientists in Rome have discovered microplastics in the placentas of women who had newly given birth. They describe this as “a matter of great concern”, and say that it could be damaging to a developing foetus’s immune system.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic no longer than five millimetres. They come from a variety of sources like larger plastic debris that degrade into smaller pieces, as well as microbeads added as exfoliants to health and beauty products like cleansers and toothpastes.
These tiny particles pass through water filtration systems and land up in the ocean, and pose a potential threat to aquatic life.
Now, these synthetic substances have been discovered in small tissue samples of four women’s placentas for the very first time. These samples form part of a study in Italy by Rome’s Fatebenefratelli Hospital, in which six women donated samples of their placentas after birth.
The study found 12 microplastic fragments in four placentas of the six participants. Only 3% of the tissue from each placenta was sampled, which suggests the total number of microplastics could be even higher than 12.
“Three were identified as stained polypropylene a thermoplastic polymer, while for the other nine it was possible to identify only the pigments, which were all used for man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, finger paints, polymers and cosmetics and personal care products,” said Dr Antonio Ragusa, lead author of the study.
The participants had no complications with birthing their children, and the impact of these microplastics is yet unknown.
“With the presence of plastic in the body, the immune system that self-recognises is disturbed, even what is not organic, said researchers from the study. “It’s like having a cyborg baby, no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of a biological entity and inorganic entities.
The paper concluded: “Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the foetus development and in acting as an interface between the latter and the external environment, the presence of exogenous and potentially harmful (plastic) particles is a matter of great concern.”