A study at Trinity College Dublin examined the potential exposure of babies fed milk prepared in bottles of polypropylene, a plastic commonly used in food packaging.
Plastic microparticles in milk bottles
Bottles made of polypropylene (PP), a plastic polymer often used for food packaging and containers including baby feeding bottles, have undeniable advantages. Light and strong, the child can handle them easily without risk of breaking them. After the ban on bisphenol A containing bottles in many countries almost ten years ago, they have become more widely available. But PP bottles expose babies and children to astronomical amounts of microplastic particles.
This is the conclusion of a study published in Nature Food, which quantified the invisible plastic particles that float in baby milk after it has been prepared in a polypropylene bottle. According to this study, one-year-old babies ingest several million microplastic particles daily. However, the effect of these particles on the health of babies is still unknown.
Heat affects the plastic bottles
Scientists at Trinity College Dublin tested ten different bottles for 21 days. They followed the WHO recommendations in the preparation of baby milk. According to the WHO, the bottle should first be sterilized in boiling water and then left to cool. It was then filled with water heated to 70°C (158 °F) after which the baby formula was added and then mixed well.
According to the study, it is the heating stages that alter the PP and cause the release of microplastics in the content of the bottle. The higher the temperature, the more microplastics are released. To recover the microplastics, scientists used filters that remove particles of 0.8 microns or larger. They identified between 1.3 million and 16.2 million particles per liter of milk in the ten bottles tested.
Babies in developed countries are more exposed to microplastics
To estimate the daily consumption of microplastic particles through the milk bottle of a 12-month-old child, they followed the exposure of children in 48 regions of the world. According to their estimate, a one-year-old child consumes between 14,600 and 4,550,000 plastic particles per day, depending on the region of the world in which they live, with developed countries being the most affected.
Unknown health effects
The effects of this exposure to microplastics on health are not yet known. It is now certain that we regularly ingest and inhale microplastics. But scientists still don’t know how they will behave once in the body and whether or not they will cause toxicity. When we ingest them, the microparticles are excreted with the feces, and when we breathe them, they can accumulate in the lung tissue.
Although the numbers presented in this study seem astronomical, the authors have not investigated any health effects in this study. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether the significant dose of microplastics, the frequency of exposure, and the fact that babies are exposed during development pose a risk to their health.