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Thinking in Print: We need to do something about microplastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a common sight on beaches and highways, but a recent study shows its extent is far more personal than it was initially understood to be. After 22 healthy adults were tested, it was found that 17 of them had microplastics in their bloodstream. While more research is needed to determine if plastic in the human body is harmful, the study highlights the extent of plastic pollution and a need for change.

Microplastics are commonly defined as plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters, but they play a large role in pollution. Microplastics are practically everywhere and have been found from the top of Mount Everest to the depths of the ocean. They float through the air we breathe and are in the products we consume. 

Many cosmetics, like mascara, foundation and face powder, are made with microplastics that can enter the body unintentionally. Lipstick, for example, commonly contains microplastics that can be consumed when eating food or licking your lips. Many toothpaste brands, sunscreens and lotions are also manufactured with microplastics. Even if these cosmetics are not directly ingested by people, the microplastics are washed out to the ocean when they are washed down your drain. They are then eaten by marine life to the determinant of the ecosystem.

Plankton, for example, are crucial to the marine food chain and are a dietary staple for many fish that serve to feed larger animals. Unfortunately, microplastics resemble the food eaten by zooplankton, and the toxins attached to the plastics are killing them off. 

Some young fish even prefer to eat the colorful plastic particles over their natural food, which leads to them starving to death before they are able to reproduce. Microplastics are also mistaken for fish eggs and ingested by larger fish that humans then eat. Is it any wonder that people consume roughly 70,000 particles of microplastics per year?

With plastics being in our air, food, water and everyday products, consuming plastics is almost inevitable. While little is known about long-term exposure to plastics in humans, we do know that plastics release toxins that are known to cause cancers, birth defects, immune system problems and childhood developmental issues in humans. Microplastics the size of nanometers can even pass through the blood-brain barrier. Fish exposed to microplastics have also been observed to have stunted growth and increased mortality rates. Even without a definitive study to prove plastics in the human body are harmful, I think it is safe to say that plastics in our bloodstream won’t do anyone any favors.

Instead of waiting for research to prove definitively that long-term exposure to microplastics is harmful to humans, we should be striving to purge them from our bodies and environment. 

Charlene Pepiot is a senior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her, cp872117@ohio.edu.

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