New research studies on health risks of microplastics: do plastics make us ill?
Dutch organisation for health research and care innovation, ZonMw, launched fifteen research projects into the effects of micro and nanoplastics on our health. Water research institute Deltares is involved in four studies that focus on risks of the spreading of microplastics through water. One study will be on the microbial biofilm that forms on plastics and that may be a source of disease and infection. This is the first scientific programme in the world to tackle this health issue.
Possible health risks
Dick Vethaak of Deltares explains: "We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles through our food and drinks, or simply when we breathe. But it is still not easy to assess the implications for our health." According to Vethaak there are strong indications of possible health risks but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.
Biofilms on plastic and pathogens
Bas van der Zaan, water and health expert at Deltares, is working on an investigation of the health risks of microplastics that carry pathogens.
"Micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi can grow on plastics that end up in the environment", Van der Zaan explains. "It is very likely that these biofilms will also contain pathogenic bacteria."
The structure of biofilms on microplastics is highly dependent on the environment where these microplastics are located.
Van der Zaan: "It is unclear which pathogens people are exposed to when they ingest microplastics through inhalation or ingestion, and whether this poses an additional risk to health."
To find answers these questions, clean microplastics will be suspended in various environments, such as ditches, purified sewage water. DNA techniques will be used to determine whether pathogenic micro-organisms nestle in the biofilms.
Deltares is working closely with the VU University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University Medical Centre and the New York Military Academy (USA) on this study.