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Researchers in Australia have identified the accumulation sites of plastic particles in the human body, raising concerns about the pervasive presence of these invisible pollutants in the air we breathe.

The pioneering study conducted by researchers from the University of Technology Sydney uncovers a hidden concern beyond visible pollution: microplastics and nanoplastics, minuscule particles that frequently enter the human respiratory system. Published in Environmental Advances, these findings carry implications for public health.

Microplastics and nanoplastics enter respiratory system

Microplastics and nanoplastics, small plastic fragments that can enter the human body from various sources such as cosmetics and clothing. A study used computational fluid particle dynamics to understand how these pollutants move through and deposit within our respiratory systems. These particles, small enough to travel through the air and settle deep in the lungs, may contribute to respiratory issues like asthma and COPD.

Researchers constructed a comprehensive model of the human respiratory system, spanning from the nose to the 13th generation of the bronchial tree, using computerized tomography scans. They examined the effects of various sizes and shapes of plastics during slow, normal, and fast breathing conditions.

Large microplastics tend to settle in the upper respiratory tract, similar to visible dust particles. Nanoplastics, being smaller, can penetrate deeper into the lungs, potentially affecting delicate lung tissues directly due to their size and Brownian motion.

Plastics exacerbate lung issues

According to Dr. Suvash Saha, plastic particles exacerbate lung issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fibrosis, shortness of breath, asthma, and the development of frosted glass nodules. Saha underscores the prevalence of plastic particle air pollution and highlights inhalation as the second most common route of human exposure.

Dr. Saha discusses how particle shape influences lung penetration, emphasizing the importance of considering breathing rates and sizes in health risk assessments for respiratory exposure to micro and nanoplastics.

The study underscores the implications of inhaling plastic particles on health, advocating for stricter regulations, improved filtration systems, and reduced plastic use. It emphasizes the importance of additional research to comprehend long-term effects and develop mitigation strategies, given the global prevalence of plastics.