Plastics, more specifically microplastics, have permeated every sphere of our lives. In a new disturbing study, researchers have found micro- and nano-plastics (MNPs) pass on from the mothers to the unborn baby.

The study, published in the journal Nanomaterials, found MNPs had not only crossed the intestinal and placental barriers within 24h, had also permeated the livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, and brains of the unborn offspring.

“Much remains unknown, but this is certainly cause for concern and follow-up study,” Philip Demokritou, the Henry Rutgers Chair and professor in nanoscience and environmental bioengineering at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said, reported.

According to the outlet, an average human ingests and inhales about 5 g of MNPs a week, which is equivalent to the mass of a credit card.

“The use of plastics has exploded since the 1940s due to their low cost and versatile properties. From 9 billion metric tons produced over the last 60 years, 80% ended up in the environment, and only 10% was recycled,” Demokritou stated.

In the study, pregnant rats were given marked nanoscale plastics. Researchers posited carboxylated red fluorescent 25 nm (PS25C) polystyrene spheres would breach the intestinal barrier of the mother rats as well as cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream and tissues of the unborn babies.

Five rats ingested liquid containing the 25 nm polystyrene balls on day 19 of their pregnancy in the experiment. There was a control group that was not fed the plastic. At the end of 24 hours, the rats were sacrificed and their tissues as well as that of their pups were analyzed.

It was found MNPs had infiltrated the livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, and brains of the unborn pup.

“Petroleum-based plastics are not biodegradable, but weathering and photooxidation break them into tiny fragments. These tiny fragments, called micro-nano-plastics, are found in human lungs, placentas, and blood, raising human health concerns,” Demokritou explained.

“As public health researchers, we are trying to assess the health risks from such an emerging contaminant to inform policymakers and develop mitigation strategies,” the researcher added.

However, researchers admitted only polystyrene MNPs of a specific size were employed in the study, which does not encompass the variety of environmental MNPs.

Nevertheless, this study is the first to prove that plastics of this size can move through the placental barrier and enter the tissues of the offspring.

“The goal is also to increase the reuse and recycling of plastics and even replace them with biodegradable, biopolymer-based plastics. This is part of our bigger societal goal towards sustainability,” Demokritou commented.