These fragments carry substances that can cause long-term effects on human health, although the impact is still unknown. Further studies need to be done, but the potential outcomes can be reduced fetal growth and compromised immunity during pregnancy.
The discovery was made through a study that researchers conducted in the Italian capital city of Rome. It was published online in the Environmental International Journal on December 2, 2020.
Six healthy women participated in the study, which adopted a plastic-free protocol throughout the whole process to prevent plastic contamination.
They all had a vaginal delivery at the term of pregnancy at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli Hospital in the Tiber Island in Rome.
After giving birth, their placentas were placed in a metal container and immediately divided into three categories: maternal side, fetal side, and chorioamniotic membranes. All samples were anonymous and were labeled only with number codes.
After analyzing the samples, the researchers discovered 12 microplastic fragments in four of the six placentas they examined.
Five were found in the fetal side samples, four in the maternal side samples, and three in the chorioamniotic membranes.
“It’s like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” as pointed out by the study’s head researcher, Dr. Antonio Ragusa, in the report by The Guardian.
“The mothers were shocked,” said Dr. Ragusa, who is also the obstetrics and gynecology director at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital.
Although the researchers couldn’t ascertain how the microplastics reached the bloodstream, they presented possible entry points from the respiratory and gastric organs to the placenta.
They explained, quoting various published sources, that microplastics may access the bloodstream and reach the placenta from the maternal respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract.
In short, the microplastics consumed or breathed by the four women while they were pregnant could have entered into their bloodstream and reached their placenta and babies eventually.
All of the microplastic fragments were pigmented or had colors, such as red, blue, and orange. They were mostly 10 microns in size, so tiny that they can be carried into the bloodstream. The study suggested these particles may have been used in packaging, paints, cosmetics, and personal care products.
In conclusion, the study stated, “Due to the crucial role of placenta in supporting the fetus’s development and in acting as an interface with the external environment, the presence of potentially harmful plastic particles is a matter of great concern.
“Further studies need to be performed to assess if the presence of microplastics may trigger immune responses or may lead to the release of toxic contaminants resulting in harm.”