Excessive plastic use has inevitably led to its consumption by organisms, including humans. It is estimated that humans consume 20 kg of plastic during their lifetime. The presence of microplastics in the human body can carry serious health risks, such as biological reactions e.g. inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis, as well toxic compounds leaching of unbound chemicals/monomers, free radicals or adsorbed organic pollutants, which mainly depend on the properties of the ingested plastic. Plastics are exposed to different substances (e.g., enzymes and acids) in the digestive system, which potentially affects their properties and structure. By stimulating the human digestive system and applying a set of advanced analytical tools, we showed that the surface of polystyrene and high-density polyethylene plastics frequently in contact with food undergoes fundamental changes during digestion. This results in the appearance of additional functional groups, and consequent increase in the plastic adsorption capacity for hydrophobic ionic compounds (such as triclosan and diclofenac) while reducing its adsorption capacity for hydrophobic non-ionic compounds (such as phenanthrene). Micro- and nanostructures that formed on the flat surface of the plastics after digestion were identified using scanning electron microscopy. These structures became defragmented and detached due to mechanical action, increasing micro- and nanoplastics in the environment. Due to their size, the release of plastic nanostructures after digestion can become an “accidental food source” for a wider group of aquatic organisms and ultimately for humans as the last link in the food chain. This, combined with improved adsorption capacity of digested plastics to hydrophobic ionic pollutants, can pose a serious threat to the environment including human health and safety.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal