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Plastics and Human Health

Our health is intrinsically linked to the quality of our environment. Nowadays we are living in what’s being called the Plastocene Age. Plastic pervades every step we take in our modern, synthetic world, meaning humans are likely to be exposed to plastic pollution in their daily lives. It is not only the organisms in the oceans which are exposed. What does exposure to plastic pollution mean to human health and wellbeing?

his question is of great interest to researchers at E&H. In an article in Environmental Science and Technology E&H researchers Heather Leslie and Dick Vethaak make the case for plastic debris as a human health issue. On the one hand there is toxicity of chemical additives used in plastics, such as flame retardants, plasticizers. Some of these can elicit endocrine disrupting and neurotoxicological effects. 

A surprisingly under-studied realm is the exposure and toxicity of plastic particles in humans. To date, most of the microplastics research has been done in the marine domain. E&H laboratory research shows that microplastics are polluting not only the sea and sea creatures, but also closer to home in urban areas. In a recent paper by Heather Leslie and coworkers report on microplastic in Amsterdam’s household wastewater and canals as well as delicious species of mussel and oysters. 

Other studies looked at microplastics in the home environment, such as the many different plastic materials applied in cosmetic formulations for UNEP (report) and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (report), but also food and beverages from the supermarket. E&H is committed to answering key questions of our time regarding the exposure levels of humans to plastic particles and chemical additives in plastics, and what this means to public health.


Dr Heather Leslie


IMPACT: Analytical Development for Microplastics
Plastic additive exposure, lifestyle and diet in European women
Hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging
Microplastics workshop and interlaboratory study
PETHUNT: Identification and quantification of PET microfibers in marine environments
Microplastics in drinking water: a review and assessment of an emerging concern
Limnoplast: Microplastics in Europe's freshwater ecosystems