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Microplastics found in stools of 8 people from Japan, Europe: study

This file photo dated Aug. 18, 2016 shows microplastic pieces found in a German river. (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Japan)

BRUSSELS -- Microplastics have been found for the first time in the stools of eight people from Japan and Europe, a team of researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria announced on Oct 23 in Vienna.

The team led by Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the university, who presented the discovery at a meeting of the United European Gastroenterology Week, urged that a large-scale investigation is necessary to evaluate the impact of microplastics on human health.

Microplastics, which are smaller than 5 millimeters in diameter, come from plastic waste in the sea or other locations that are broken down by weather, degradation and wear and tear. Researchers warn that their pollution is spreading globally. Microplastics have been detected in the bodies of marine species and drinking water worldwide.

According to the latest study, microplastics with a diameter of between 0.05 and 0.5 millimeters were found in the feces of eight people aged between 33 and 65 from eight countries -- Austria, Britain, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland and Russia. On average, 10 grams of stool contained 20 pieces. The researchers found nine types of microplastics, and the majority was either polypropylene, which is used for food wrapping, or polyethylene-terephthalate, a material for plastic bottles.

Before the examination of their stool samples, the participants recorded what they ate for a week. The data showed that all of them had consumed food that came in plastic wrapping, and had drunk water from plastic bottles. More than half of them had also consumed marine products.

Dr. Schwabl said in a statement that his team's study confirmed "what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut." The doctor pointed out that while the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the stomach, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. "Now that we have the first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health."

(Japanese original by Kosuke Hatta, Brussels Bureau)

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