Researchers say we could be on the cusp of a major health crisis. The study of microplastics on the human body is relatively new, even though plastic has been around for nearly 160 years. 69 News Reporter Jaccii Farris continues her three-part series on microplastics by taking a look at some of the surprising places they've been found.
Researchers say small fragments of plastic called microplastics have been found on the highest peak of Mount Everest and in the deepest part of the sea.
They say it's in the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and in many of the products we use. So it's no wonder scientists have found them in the human body.
"Very little is known about the toxic effects of microplastics in humans," said Dr. Karunthachalam Kannan, a researcher at New York University who's been studying microplastics for four years.
His most recent study involved babies.
"To our surprise we found at least 15 times higher levels of microplastics, poly ethylene type of microplastics, in stools from children than in adults," Kannan said.
Kannan says that's because of things like plastic baby bottles, teethers and toys, and because babies put everything in their mouths.
Kannan says in the past, scientists thought plastic was inert. But in recent years, researchers learned that some of the chemicals that are used to make plastic can be harmful.
The Mayo Clinic says BPA, which makes some plastics transparent, can impact the brain and prostate of unborn babies and lead to behavioral problems. In adults, researchers say there's a possible link between BPA and increased blood pressure, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
DEHP, used to make some plastics flexible, has been linked to cancer in mice. The Centers for Disease Control says in humans, it too can lead to fertility issues and impact unborn children.
Researchers in Norway say there's also a link between chemicals found in certain types of plastic and obesity and hormone problems. Studies like these have prompted many manufacturers to take BPA and DEHP out of the products they make, but plastics with both chemicals are still out there.
"It's a huge public health crisis that we are facing and we will be facing," Kannan said.
Researchers at the University of Hull in Cottingham, England have also been laser focused on microplastics research. A recent study there found it in lung tissue.
"We were very surprised to find particles, in one case one of the particles was more than 2 millimeters long and in very deep parts of the lung," said Dr. Jeanette Rotchell with the University of Hull.
Rotchell says the study was done on lung samples from people who were having surgery but were not directly linked to any illness.
Other studies have found microplastics in human blood and placenta. One study found microplastics breached the blood-brain barrier in mice.
Right now, microplastics research is so uncharted that Dr. Kannan says he tells NYU students if they want a secure career they should stick with microplastics health research.
Jaccii Farris wraps up her series on microplastics Thursday night with tips on how you can reduce your exposure.