A critical perspective on early communications concerning human health aspects of microplastics

Sinja Rist, Bethanie Carney Almroth, Nanna B. Hartmann, Therese M. Karlsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Microplastic research in recent years has shown that small plastic particles are found almost everywhere we look. Besides aquatic and terrestrial environments, this also includes aquatic species intended for human consumption and several studies have reported their prevalence in other food products and beverages. The scientific as well as public debate has therefore increasingly focused on human health implications of microplastic exposure. However, there is a big discrepancy between the magnitude of this debate and actual scientific findings, which have merely shown the presence of microplastics in certain products. While plastics can undoubtedly be hazardous to human health due to toxicity of associated chemicals or as a consequence of particle toxicity, the extent to which microplastics in individual food products and beverages contribute to this is debatable. Considering the enormous use of plastic materials in our everyday lives, microplastics from food products and beverages likely only constitute a minor exposure pathway for plastic particles and associated chemicals to humans. But as this is rarely put into perspective, the recent debate has created a skewed picture of human plastic exposure. We risk pulling the focus away from the root of the problem: the way in which we consume, use and dispose of plastics leading to their widespread presence in our everyday life and in the environment. Therefore we urge for a more careful and balanced discussion which includes these aspects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Pages (from-to)720-726
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Contamination
  • Food products
  • Plastic additives
  • Chemical toxicity
  • Particle toxicity


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