A French study detected microplastics in the air. The material can become airborne after sewage sludge containing it is spread on fields and dries out. (Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0)

An environmental health expert warns that microplastics, long known to damage marine life, could be entering the air. And the consequences to the human body are unknown.

The Guardian reports:

Microplastics are known to be damaging to life in the oceans, with marine creatures mistaking them for food, and to be consumed by people eating seafood. But Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London, told MPs investigating the issue that the particles could be being inhaled too.

“There is a possibility, a real possibility, that some of those microparticles will be entrained into the air, and they will be carried around and we will end up breathing them,” Kelly told an evidence session of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), adding that his group had just started new research into the issue.

“This is a horizon-scanning issue but the particles are of a size that they are [breathable], they are increasing in number in our environment and there is a question to be asked.”

Kelly said the microplastics could enter the air after sewage sludge is spread on fields and dries out. He said a French study had detected the particles in the air.

“If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation, in the same way as we worry about all the other vehicle related-emissions,” he said. The health effect of microplastics, either eaten or breathed in, was just beginning to be looked at, Kelly said. …

Over 10m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year and is worn down into trillions of pieces of plastic. Public attention in recent months has focused on one kind of microplastic, called microbeads and used as exfoliants in toiletries such as face washes and toothpastes.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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