What Can Be Done to Prevent DNA-Sized Plastics From Invading Our Bodies?

What Can Be Done to Prevent DNA-Sized Plastics From Invading Our Bodies?

Excerpt from Epoch Times, June 1, 2024

Plastics that break down into particles as tiny as our DNA—small enough to be absorbed through our skin—are released into our environment at a rate of 82 million metric tons a year. These plastics, and the mix of chemicals they are made with, are now major contributors to disease, affecting the risk of afflictions ranging from cancer to hormonal issues.

Plastic pollution threatens everything from sea animals to human beings, a problem scientists, activists, business groups, and politicians are debating as they draft a global treaty to end plastic pollution. These negotiations have only highlighted the complexity of a threat that seems to pit economic growth and jobs against catastrophic damage to people and the planet.

Rapid growth in plastics didn’t begin until the 1950s, and since then, annual production has increased nearly 230-fold, according to two data sets processed by Our World in Data. More than 20 percent of plastic waste is mismanaged—ending up in our air, water, and soil.
While plastic doesn’t biodegrade—at least not in a reasonable time frame—it does break down into ever smaller particles. We may no longer see it, but plastic constantly accumulates in our environment. These microscopic bits, known as microplastics and nanoplastics, can enter our bodies through what we eat, drink, and breathe.
Microplastics measure five millimeters or less. Nanoplastics are an invisible fraction of that size, down to one billionth of a meter or around the size of DNA.
Plastic pollution is a chemical remnant of petroleum with other chemicals added in to change the durability, elasticity, and color. PlastChem Project has cataloged more than 16,000 chemicals—4,200 considered highly hazardous, according to the initiative’s report issued in March.
“Plastic pollution is absolutely everywhere,” she said. “What’s hard right now is the body of science, trying to understand what the presence of plastic inside us means from a human health perspective, is still new.”
The research is clear: Plastics cause disease, disability, and death. They cause premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth as well as leukemia, lymphoma, brain cancer, liver cancer, heart disease and stroke. Infants, children, pregnant women, and plastics workers are the people at greatest risk of these harms. These diseases result in annual economic costs of $1.2 trillion,” Dr. Phil Landrigan, pediatrician and environmental health expert, said in a Beyond Plastics news release in March.
The relatively recent discovery that plastic particles can make their way into the human body through multiple methods has come with other unsetting insights. Microplastics and nanoplastics in human artery wall plaque were recently linked to a 350 percent increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and death.

Since cleaning up plastic is nearly impossible once it breaks down, advocacy groups are pushing for legislation that would reduce single-use products such as food wrappers, bottles, takeout containers, and bags—some of the most prolific and problematic plastics.

The Economics of Plastics

Plastics are important for many businesses and the plastics industry itself is significant and influential. However, plastics aren’t as profitable as one may expect. New plastic facilities often get subsidies and tax breaks that make plastics artificially cheap to produce. These financial supports have increased substantially in the past three years.
In addition to direct fossil fuel subsidies, the plastics and petrochemical industries benefit from grants, tax breaks, and incentives. Because of a lack of transparency, exact figures on subsidies are hard to come by, according to the Center for International Environmental Law. The group is urging the UN to ban certain subsidies, including any that would reduce the price of raw goods used to make plastic.
The Plastics Industry Association heavily promotes recycling and biodegradable plastics but critics say there are inherent problems with both. Only 4 percent of plastic is recycled in the United States, while an equal amount ends up in rivers, oceans, and soil—breaking down into microplastics and nanoplastics that experts believe will persist for centuries. 

Little Changes Make a Big Difference

Here are some easy tips consumers can take to limit their own plastic exposure:
  • Shop with reusable shopping bags.
  • Don’t use plastic in the microwave or dishwasher because heat can release additional polymers.
  • Buy metal or glass snack containers to replace sealable plastic bags.
  • Use beeswax cloth in place of plastic wrap.
  • Replace dryer sheets with wool balls.
  • Carry a refillable cup for water and coffee.
  • Consider reusable trash bags.
  • Use and carry metal straws, stir sticks, and reusable cutlery.
  • Don’t litter, and pick up trash you find outdoors.

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