It’s well known that inhaling airborne pollutants can lead to serious respiratory health problems. But a recent report has found that pollution could have a previously unknown effect on this crucial portion of the body.
In the Wrong Place
For the first time ever, microplastics have been found residing in the lung tissues of living individuals. That unsettling finding came courtesy of research conducted by University of Hull and Hull York Medical School. These contaminants were found all over the subjects’ lungs, though they were primarily concentrated in the lower lung regions.
In total, the research team tested thirteen samples of lung tissue. In all but two they identified a variety of microplastics. The twelve types of plastic identified included polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and resin. Such materials are typically used to manufacture clothing, packaging and bottles. They are also found in ropes and twine.
An Unwanted Guest
In all, the research team spotted 39 individual particles of microplastics. The sizes of these particles ranged from four micrometers to larger than two millimeters. More than half (21) of the particles had lodged their way into the lower lung area.
In a Hull York Medical School press release, lead author Laura Sadofsky explained the importance of the research. “Microplastics have previously been found in human cadaver autopsy samples. This is the first robust study to show microplastics in lungs from live people.”
The fact that the plastics were found in the lower lungs was also noteworthy. “It also shows that they are in the lower parts of the lung,” continued Sadofsky, a lecturer in respiratory medicine at Hull York Medical School. “Lung airways are very narrow so no one thought they could possibly get there, but they clearly have.”
Male participants were found to be carrying significantly more microplastics than their female counterparts. The study authors contend that future research should continue to document what types of plastics sneak into the lungs, as well as the amount of microplastics present. This will enable medical researchers to better determine how such contaminants affect respiratory health.