Microplastics in the air we breathe: a health concern?

In recent years, there has been growing concern over the impact of air pollution on human health. Airborne particulate matter, particularly PM2.5, has long been linked to respiratory conditions and heart disease and is now believed to also be a major contributor to neurological conditions such as dementia and impacts on pregnancy.

Professor Frank Kelly, Director of Environmental Research at Imperial College London, believes that plastic in the air may also be part of the problem. He notes that “plastics are everywhere” and that they are present in what we eat, drink and breathe. Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, is due to publish a landmark report on the health impacts of air pollution next month and Kelly has contributed a chapter to it.

Until recently, scientists asumed that particulate pollution was predominantly made of carbon - the sooty residue pumped out by cars and factories. However, Kelly is increasingly concerned that plastics are also an issue. His team has found airborne particles from a number of different plastic sources, including polyethylene (primarily used in packaging), polyethylene terephthalate (used in clothing), and polypropylene (used in furniture and medical products).

Kelly believes that modern tyres - which are predominantly plastic - are a significant source of this pollution. “The modern tyre is not rubber," he says. “It is 55% plus plastic." He notes that if every vehicle in London was replaced with electric cars, we would still have a PM2.5 problem because of the tyres.

Kelly is embarking on a series of studies to ascertain the health impacts of these particles. “Is it the very presence of air pollution as a foreign body that is causing the problem?” he asks. “Or is it the plastic itself? Or is it what the plastic is carrying?” Scientists do not yet have definitive answers to these questions, but Kelly believes that plastic acts as a transport vessel for chemicals which then spread to the brain or placenta. Studies have found traces of microplastics throughout bodily organs, but Kelly cautions that more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.

AERS is a high-quality nose filter that can help protect you from PM2.5 particles including microplastics and other harmful pollutants. Their filters are made of activated carbon, which can help to trap harmful particles and chemicals.

(See the original article in the Sunday Times) 

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