3 Effects of Microplastics on Humans

This article gives a list of a few effects of microplastics on humans, you also get to see the different types of microplastics, the definition of microplastics, and the sources – where they come from.

Microplastics are of concern because of their widespread presence in the oceans and the potential physical and toxicological risks they pose to organisms. Though they are gotten from plastics, leading to more dangerous effects of microplastics on humans than normal or single-use plastics. Microplastics can be found in oceans majorly because the oceans have been with time the dumping site for plastics since their creation.

We have taken the initiative to write something on this topic to educate and inform you. I do hope you enjoy reading this article but, before we dive into our subject matter, the effects of microplastics on humans, let’s define microplastics.

What are Microplastics?

Microplastics are pieces of plastics that are less than five millimeters long and are remnants of larger plastic debris that are broken down by erosion and sunlight into increasing smaller pieces and scientists are starting to discover that they are invading much more than our oceans and sea life.

Microplastics are chipping from a larger plastic product. Microplastics can be formed when a bigger bit of plastic breaks down. 

In a study done in South Korea, scientists sampled thirty-nine (39) brands of table salt from around the world and found microplastics in thirty-six (36) of them.

Recent studies into water contamination have found microplastics in eighty-three percent (83%) of tap water samples from major cities around the world and in Ninety-three percent (93%) of the world‘s top 11 bottled water Brands. 

It is needful to know some of the causes of plastic pollution because it is where the effects of microplastics on humans originate from and they include

  • Urbanization and Population Growth 
  • Plastics are Cheap and Affordable to Manufacture
  • Reckless Cheap
  • Disposing of Plastic and Garbage
  • Slow Decomposition Rate
  • Fishing Net etc.

Let’s look at the types of microplastics before we consider the effects of microplastics on humans.

Types Of Microplastics

There are two types of microplastics:

  • Primary Microplastics 
  • Secondary Microplastics

1. Primary Microplastics

Primary microplastics are produced for world commercial purposes. They include

  • Nurdles
  • Microbeads
  • Fibers

1. Nurdles

Small pellets that are put together, melted, and molded to make larger plastic shapes; are small plastic pellets that are used to manufacture plastic goods. Companies melt them down and make molds of plastic products, such as lids to containers.

Due to their size, nurdles sometimes spill out of vehicles during delivery, especially with rail cars. Storms and rainwater then push those nurdles into storm drains, which then empty into the lake. Like fragments and microbeads, fish and other aquatic species can mistake nurdles for food leading to severe effects of microplastics on humans.

2. Microbeads

Which are used in personal care products to help scrub off dead skin, They are non-biodegradable plastic particles measuring less than one millimeter in diameter. You can find microbeads in facial cleansers, exfoliating soap products, and toothpaste. Because of their size, microbeads can pass through treatment plants and enter the Great Lakes.

To give you a sense of scale, just one tube of toothpaste can contain 300,000 microbeads. They are a problem because fish and other aquatic species can mistake them for food. Because plastic is not digestible, it can clog the intestines, which can lead to starvation and death. 

3. Fibers

Many clothes today are made of synthetic plastic fibers like nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that once washed get loose from clothes and pass through sewage treatment plants until they reach the ocean.  Research funded by Patagonia estimates that 40% of microfibres are not filtered out at wastewater treatment plants. Sewage drains can get clogged as a result of it. Unlike cotton or wool, fleece microfibres are non-biodegradable. 

2. Secondary Microplastics

Secondary microplastics are particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items, such as water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves. Such sources of secondary microplastics include water and soda bottles, fishing nets, plastic bags, microwave containers, tea bags, and tire wear.

Let’s look at the subject matter – the effects of microplastics on humans.

Effects of Microplastics on Humans

In terms of the effects of microplastics on humans, we cannot have both positive effects of microplastics on humans because microplastics are foreign to the human body. The effects of microplastics on humans are very dangerous but not so obvious which makes it scarier because if you knew the seriousness, you will be able to take preventive measures.

Microplastics are found everywhere and human exposure to them can occur through, ingestion, inhalation, and dermal absorption due to their presence in the air, water, food, and consumer products.

Scientists have proposed that we ingest from hundreds to six figures (100000s) in microplastic particles daily as even the textiles we wear shed fibers and research has proven that textiles are the major sources of airborne microplastics.

However, it’s not only the plastic particles themselves that are potentially harmful: the surface of microplastics in the environment are colonized by micro-organisms, some of which have been identified as human pathogens which have a particularly strong bind to plastic waste, more so than to natural surfaces.

Listed below are some effects of microplastics on humans:

  • Death of Immune Cells
  • Respiratory Disorder
  • Digestive Problems

1. Death of Immune Cells

One of the major effects of microplastics on humans is the death of immune cells. Because the human immune system sends immune cells against foreign bodies such as bacteria detected in the body, likewise, it sends these cells against microplastics. 

At the Plastic Health Summit of 2019, Prof. Dr. Nienke Vrisekoop presented a research result of the effects that our immune cells undergo ad a result of microplastics in our blood. They made a discovery. The cells directly exposed to these microplastics died prematurely and quickly. She commented that she could “imagine that this would lead to an inflammatory response within the body, one wherein the immune system makes and directs more immune cells towards microplastics”. 

2. Respiratory Disorder

One of the dangerous effects of microplastics on humans is how it contributes to a respiratory disorder. Plastic microfibres can be found in the air we breathe every day originating from nylon factories, synthetic clothing, and wear and tear from car tires.

In the late 1990s, scientists discovered microplastics in the lungs of cancer patients. This raised the question “do microplastic fibers contribute to the risk of lung cancer? Do they destroy the lungs? does exposure to these particles cause respiratory problems? And what level of exposure?

At the Plastic Health Summit in October 2019, Dr. Fransien van Dijk presented the results of her research answering one of the questions. She and her colleagues grew two types of ‘mini-lungs’ and exposed these to nylon and polyester microfibres. According to her, When nylon was added to the lungs, the latter almost disappeared as a result of being attacked by the microplastics. However, when polyester was added, there was no sign of deterioration. Thus, providing an indication of the possible harmful effect of microplastics on the human respiratory system. 

Additionally, research on the respiratory health problems of workers in nylon flock plants in the US and Canada revealed the impact of these particles. Symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing were noted. There was also evidence that workers may develop inflammation in their lungs and asthma due to the constant inhalation of these microplastics.

3. Digestive Problems

Every day, we eat, drink and breathe microplastics. These plastic particles are found mostly in seafood such as fish. Surprisingly, even in water and salt. It has been known to disrupt metabolism by altering the energy consumption level during metabolism. This is also one of the negative effects of microplastics on humans.

some other effects of microplastics on humans are listed below:

  • carcinogenic effects
  • oxidative stress
  • DNA damage and inflammation
  • neurotoxicity


The presence of MPs in seafood poses a major hazard to human health. Seafood is an essential part of the human diet. MPs contamination of the intestinal system poses a serious risk of spreading to other regions of the body. Endocytosis and persorption are two of the most common methods for MPs to enter the human body. Toxicological impacts may reduce fish performance, which is of considerable consideration of humans who eat fish as a major part of their meal, and may have severe impacts on catching fish. More examination into these concerns is required, taking into account realistic MP and pollutant levels in the ecosystem (Neves, 2015).

More research is still needed to understand the potentially harmful effects of microplastics on humans.

Effect of Microplastic on the Environment

Apart from the effects of microplastics on humans, microplastics also negatively affect the environment in ways we are going to discuss below-

Microplastics can even be found in tap water. Moreover, the surfaces of tiny fragments of plastic may carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector for diseases in the environment. Microplastics can also interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions.

Though they are small, these bits of plastic bring similar issues that macroplastics do — plus their own set of harms. These small particles serve as carriers for bacteria and persistent organic pollutants.

Persistent organic pollutants are toxic organic compounds that, much like plastic, take years to degrade. They consist of chemicals like pesticides and dioxins, which are hazardous to human and animal health in high concentrations.

Effect of Microplastic on Marine Life

Marine microplastics will affect many aspects of the marine fish and marine food chain.

Microplastics can have a toxic effect on fish and other aquatic life, including reducing food intake, delaying growth, and causing oxidative damage and abnormal behavior. the plastics absorb many pollutant chemicals, which can then be transferred to fish that ingest them and up the food chain to us.

You can also read this article on the effects of microplastics on fishes

Secondly, plastics float in the water column rather than sinking directly to the bottom, thus fish end up eating a lot more of them.

I have also read some studies on ocean garbage patches that show the bacteria/microorganisms that thrive on plastics, are generally much more dangerous bacteria for humans, thus the plastics make water more unsafe for us and fish by promoting bacteria that produce toxins.

you can also read this article

Effect of Microplastics on Animals

These microplastics have been found throughout the oceans and locked in Arctic ice. They can end up in the food chain, showing up in animals big and small. Now a host of new studies show that microplastics can break down rapidly.

And in some cases, they can alter entire ecosystems. Scientists have been finding these plastic bits in all kinds of animals, from tiny crustaceans to birds and whales. Their size is a concern. Small animals low on the food chain eat them.

When larger animals feed on the animals, they can end up also consuming large amounts of plastic. The effects of microplastics on humans are indirectly affected by their presence in animals that humans kill for meat especially fishes and aquatic life organisms.

Effects of Microplastics on Humans – FAQs

Where do microplastics come from?

Microplastics have been found in edible fish, according to various research, and as a result of biomagnifications, microplastics penetrate human systems and have also been found in table salt, drinking water, Beer, and Antarctic Ice, and the womb. Microplastics are reported to be present at all levels of aquatic environments, posing threat to major biota. Scientists have found a few microplastics everywhere they have searched the latest being human blood. 


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