For the first time, scientists have found microplastics in breast milk, raising concerns over potential health risks for infants.
Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny plastic particles that are less than five millimeters (0.2 inches) in diameter—smaller than the standard pearl used in jewelry.
They cause pollution by entering ecosystems from a variety of sources like cosmetics, clothing, food packaging, and industrial processes.
Though first discovered in 2004, microplastics have permeated everywhere—in deep oceans; Arctic snow, and Antarctic ice; in shellfish, table salt, and drinking water. These tiny pieces could take decades or more to degrade fully.
However, the discovery of these tiny particles in breast milk started with scientists.
According to the Guardian, microplastics were found in the breast milk samples taken from 34 healthy mothers, a week after giving birth in Rome, Italy. The scientists detected microplastics in 75 percent of them.
The study, which was published in a polymer journal, discovered microplastics composed of polyethylene, PVC, and polypropylene.
Plastics contain harmful chemicals, such as phthalates, which have been found in breast milk before.
In their study, the researchers recorded the mothers’ consumption of food and drink in plastic packaging and of seafood, as well as the use of plastic-containing personal hygiene products. But they did not find any link with the presence of microplastics.
This suggests the ubiquitous presence of microplastics in the environment makes human exposure inevitable, the researchers said.
“So, the proof of microplastics’ presence in breast milk increases our great concern for the extremely vulnerable population of infants,” Dr Valentina Notarstefano, from Università Politecnica Delle Marche, in Ancona, Italy, said.
“It will be crucial to assess ways to reduce exposure to these contaminants during pregnancy and lactation,” she said.
“But it must be stressed that the advantages of breastfeeding are much greater than the disadvantages caused by the presence of polluting microplastics. Studies like ours must not reduce breastfeeding of children, but instead, raise public awareness to pressure politicians to promote laws that reduce pollution.”