You Won’t Believe What You’ve Been Consuming Your Whole Life!

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Agricultural systems are the final recipients of a number of several pollutans (Razzaghi et al., 2018) and nanomaterial, including nano- as well as microplastics with effects relatively unknown yet. The lack of understanding and information regarding nanomaterial effects in agricultural systems is troublesome for the food chain. Humans take a huge part in the food chain which makes humans vulnerable to be exposed to this kind of material. Microplastic commonly defined as plastic particles with size below 5 mm (Andrady, 2011) whilst nanoplastic generally defined as particles below 0.1μm in diameter (Mattson et al., 2018). Recent studies suggest that plastic materials and plastic particles (micro and nano sizes), as well as their associated chemicals can be detrimental to human well being (Rist et al., 2018).

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However, we have been exposed to the material long before we realised it. The following is human exposure to nano- and microplastics in food products:

1) Table Salts

Table salts are the ones human directly consuming, it is usually used for seasoning. Without table salts, the food will certainly be flavorless. There is three categories of table salts from its raw material origins that is sea salt, lake salt, and rock salt. Table salts can be easily exposed to nano- and microplastics for its raw materials exposure to the pollutants. According to Gundog Du’s research on Turkish table salt, 16 brands of table salts from the Turkish market contained microplastics which have undergone microscopic as well as Raman spectroscopic examination. With the microplastic content was 16–84 item/kg in sea salt, 8–102 item/kg in lake salt, and 9–16 item/kg in rock salt. The most plastic polymers found are polyethylene (22.9%) and polypropylene (19.2%).

2) Sea Fish

Sea fish are very vulnerable to the nano- and microplastics exposure. The nano- and microplastic particles trapped in the rain water as well as the abandoned plastic particles in the oceans will be degraded eventually and harm marine livings. The fish will mistook the particles as food and consume them. The presence of microplastics has been reported in the guts and/or tissues of a number of marine species, including some commercially important bivalve mollusks, crustaceans, and fish became unsurprising. Nevertheless, given the practical difficulties in the separation of microplastic fragments, filaments, and films from biological tissues, and their subsequent identification, research in this field is still infancy (Santillo, 2017).

3) Plastic Bottled Drinks

Most of the bottled drinks packaging are still based on plastic. Little did we know the brand new plastic packaging can be degraded into tiny size particles called nano- and microparticles before being washed.

4) Fruits and Vegetables

The microplastic in the ocean get picked up within the vaporized water particles which soon after form clouds, fall back to the earth in the form of water, got sucked up by the plants’ roots. These materials were found in several fruits and vegetables such as carrots, lettuces, broccoli, potato, apples and pears. According to Margherita Ferrante’s research, the results indicated that plastic particles are more concentrated in fruits than in vegetables edible parts and that plastic sizes are different in the assessed plants being very small in carrots tissues. We can hypothesize that the fruits contain more microplastics not only because of the very hugh vascularization of the fruit pulp but also due to the greater size and complexity of the root system and age of the tree which lives for several years compared to the vegetables which only lasts for 60 to 75 days for the carrot.

And the following are the causes to human exposure to nano- and microplastics (directly or indirectly):

1) Degradation of mismanaged plastic materials in the form of abrasion of plastic products

2) Abandoned fishing nets in oceans

3) Nano- and microplastics in textile materials

4) Microbeads used in hygiene and personal care products

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At present, it is premature to draw conclusions about the potential effects of naturally occurring levels of microplastics on agrifood products. Future researches should specifically focus on understanding nanotoxicity in plants but also in human through the food we are consuming.

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Moreso, to reduce the risk of future exposure to nano- and microplastics, massive and structured changes are needed from the government, industrial sector, and each individual. The following consisted of ideas to participate to make changes:

1) Use microalgae-based biopolymer for nano- and microplastic removal in waste water plants

2) Generate strict policies regarding plastic use and waste organizing

3) Use the alternatives of plastic packaging

4) Reduce using single-used plastic bags

5) Wash your plastic-based water bottle and container before using

6) Bring your own drink bottle

7) Bring your own shopping bag

References

Andrady, A.L., 2011. Microplastics in the Marine Environment. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 62, 1596–1605. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.05.030

Ferrante, M., Conti, G.O., Banni, M., et al., 2020. Micro- and Nano-plastics in edible fruit and vegetables. The first diest risks assessment for the general population. Environmental Research Journal №187. Italy : Cantania University.

Mattson, K., Hansson, L.A., Cedervall, T., 2015. Nano-plastics in the aquatic environment. Environ. Sci. Process. Impacts 17, 1712–1721. https://doi.org/10.1039/C5EM00227C

Razagghi, N. Ziarati, P., Rastegar, H., Shoeibi, S., Amirahmadi, M., Conti, G.O., Ferrante, M., Fakhri, Y., Mousavi Khaneghah, A., 2018. The consentration of probabilistic health risk assessment of pesticide residues in commercially available olive oils in Iran. Food Chem. Toxicol. 120, 32–40.

Rist, S., Carney Almroth, B., Hartmann, N.B., Karlsson, T.M., 2018. A Critical Perspective on early communications concerning human health aspects of microplastics. Sci. Total. Environ. 626, 720–726. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.092

Santillo, D., Miller, K., Johnston, P., 2017. Microplastics as contaminants in commercially important seafood species. Integr. Environ. Assess. Manag. 13, 516–521. https://doi.org/10.1002/ieam.1909

Hello! I’m a Bioprocess Engineering student; class of 2017. Who loves reading, writing, travelling, and photography. Hereby, I let you to wander with me!