By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Every one of us, even unborn fetuses, are continually exposed to microplastics which have become such ubiquitous global environmental pollutants that they now contaminate the everyday air, food and water we take in.
Given a growing body of evidence that many chemicals in plastics pose human health risks, Californians should welcome recently passed legislation putting the state on path to be the first to track microplastics in tap water.
Because plastics are highly resistant to biodegradation – fragmenting instead into ever smaller bits eventually reaching micron and nanometer dimensions – they travel unseen in wind and waterways so that even the most remote regions of the globe, like the Arctic seabed and summit of Mount Everest, are contaminated with microplastics.
Global plastics production exceeded 360 million metric tons in 2019 and shows no signs of leveling off, so it’s no surprise microplastics (smaller than 5mm) are increasingly showing up in disturbing places like house dust, beer, table salt, indoor air, drinking water, seafood, plankton, and human poop.
Many constituents of plastics and the pollutants they pick up from the environment are known to be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens or developmental toxins which pose the greatest threat to developing fetuses. Bisphenol-A (BPA)) for example, a building block of certain plastics, was banned nationwide from use in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 because its mimicry of the hormone estrogen tampers with sexual development in both males and females. Fetal exposure to phthalates, chemical additives that render plastics soft and pliable, lowers sperm counts.
The placenta in humans has historically been viewed as a reliable barrier protecting the fetus from potential dangers lurking in the mother’s bloodstream. This fantasy has been shattered by shocking revelations in recent decades, like a 2005 report from Environmental Working Group that umbilical cord blood of U.S. babies contains an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants.