Babies are proportionally more exposed to plastic than adults because of Baby bottles, toys, floor mats, and pacifiers. Even newborn babies’ first stools are contaminated! The impact of this exposure is still unclear.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is one of the most commonly used types of plastic. It is used in bottles, pillow fillings and stuffed toys, kitchen utensils, food-safe packaging, toys, and much more.
This type of plastic is also found in stools, proving that we ingest PET every day in the form of micro-particles less than 5 millimeters in size. Even more worryingly, there is 10 times more of it in the stool of young children than in the stool of adults, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Sciences and Technology Letters. Researchers analyzed the soiled diapers of six one-year-old infants, three newborns, and ten adults and found 36,000 nanograms of PET per gram of stool in the babies, 10 times more than that found in adults. Even meconium, the first stool of the newborns (who are presumably not yet exposed to plastic), showed concentrations similar to those of the adults.
Carpets, toys, and baby bottles
Clearly, young children are particularly exposed to plastics. In 2020, an earlier study showed that food bottles release up to 16 million plastic micro-particles per liter of liquid. The more the bottle is heated and the more it is shaken, the more particles are released. But bottles are far from being the only culprit. Babies have a tendency to put anything they can get their hands on in their mouths: pacifiers, toys, synthetic fabrics, soft animals, etc… The floor mats and carpet they crawl on also contain microplastics. For example, another 2019 study found that PET carpets can release up to 4.6 mg of microplastics per kg of dust, which then falls back onto the floor. This means that children ingest up to 17 300 nanograms of PET per kilogram of body weight every day.
Uncertain health effects
The health effects of microplastics are still quite uncertain. For a long time, plastic was considered inactive and, once ingested, it went straight to the digestive tract before being excreted in the feces,” explain the authors of the new study. However, recent studies show that microparticles smaller than 10 micrometers can pass through cell membranes and enter the circulatory system.
The presence of microplastics in meconium suggests that the particles pass through the placenta. Studies in experimental animals have also shown that exposure to polystyrene nanoplastics causes pulmonary and metabolic problems, activation of inflammatory genes, and promotion of cell apoptosis; however, effects in humans have not yet been demonstrated.
Plastics also contain a number of additives that make them more flexible, durable, and UV-resistant. The health effects of these products are still unknown. Plastics may also contain bacteria and viruses that can infect young children. This phenomenon is difficult to combat. For example, although it has been possible to ban the most dangerous types of plastic, such as bisphenol A, which is suspected of being carcinogenic, it seems impossible to totally eliminate plastics from our environment. However, we can try to limit the damage by avoiding making bottles with water that is too hot, vacuuming regularly to keep floors free of microfibres, and giving preference to clothes and toys made from natural materials.
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