In a recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology Letters, scientists found 10 times more microplastic in babies’ feces than in adults’. Researchers discovered this in a pilot study that involved sifting through infants’ used diapers. The researchers established that each gram of infant poop contains an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
PET is one of the most common polymers. Often called polyester in the clothing industry, it is also used in making plastic bottles. Previously, studies have indicated that plastic formula bottles shed off microplastics that children may swallow. A paper published last October in Nature revealed that plastic formula bottles could feed babies millions of microplastics per day, or almost a billion microplastics per year.
The surprising finding was that adults excrete fewer microplastics compared to babies. Researchers have several ideas as to why this might be the case. For instance, babies drink directly from plastic bottles. Secondly, babies put plenty of plastic products in their mouths, including toys and clothes.
In many cases, baby food is wrapped in single-use plastics that may also shed off a significant amount of microplastic. Besides clothing and feeding, babies also crawl on surfaces, some of which are made of polymers that shed microplastics.
Kurunthachalam Kannan, an environmental health scientist at New York University School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors, said, “Unfortunately, with the modern lifestyle, babies are exposed to so many different things for which we don’t know what kind of effect they can have later in their life.”
The researchers arrived at the results by collecting dirty diapers from six 1-year-olds and running the feces through filters to trap microplastics. They did the same with samples of a newborn’s first feces and still found some microplastics in the waste. For the adults, 10 stool samples were used and revealed that microplastic levels in adult feces were much lower than those in infants’ stool.
These findings raise questions over the health threats children face. Although the health effects of microplastics aren’t fully understood yet, studies show that some of the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing are harmful to human health. A study done by researchers at ETH Zürich in Switzerland found that plastics contain over 10,000 chemicals, a quarter of which are potentially harmful.
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