Scientists find microplastics wherever they look for them: food, water, air and some parts of the human body, including, and this is the latest discovery, in the tissues of the heart.
Now, in a pilot study of people who have had heart surgery, researchers at the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology report that they have found microplastics in many heart tissues, and the microplastics were reportedly introduced, unexpectedly, during cardiac surgical procedures.
Microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters wide or about the size of a pencil eraser.
The research funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Beijing Natural Science Foundation analyzed the tissues of 15 patients undergoing heart surgery by considering samples from different sections of the organ in a pilot experiment, evaluating in some cases also venous blood taken before and after the operation.
The team analyzed the samples with direct infrared laser imaging and identified particles made from eight types of plastics, including polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride and poly(methyl methacrylate). This technique detected tens of thousands of individual pieces of microplastic in most of the tissue samples, although the quantities and materials varied among the participants. All of the blood samples also contained plastic particles, but after surgery their average size decreased and the particles came from more different types of plastic.
Although the study had a small number of participants, the researchers say they have provided preliminary evidence that various microplastics can accumulate and persist in the heart and its innermost tissues. And they add that the findings show that “invasive medical procedures are an overlooked route of exposure to microplastics, providing direct access to the bloodstream and internal tissues.” But more studies are now needed to fully understand the effects of microplastics on a person’s cardiovascular system and their prognosis after heart surgery, the researchers conclude.
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