I was going to post this within the earlier thread about chemist Thomas Midgely, Jr., but I didn’t want to conflate that important information with commentary about another group of “miracle” substances - plastics.
As reported in The Guardian online, Prof Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at the Free University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) explains that infants’ and adults’ bodies may be permeated with plastic in the following linked article:
Microplastic pollution has been detected in human blood… in almost 80% of the people tested… Half the samples contained PET plastic, which is commonly used in drinks bottles, while a third contained polystyrene, used for packaging food and other products. A quarter of the blood samples contained polyethylene, from which plastic carrier bags are made…
[P]revious work had shown that microplastics were 10 times higher in the faeces of babies compared with adults and that babies fed with plastic bottles are swallowing millions of microplastic particles a day.
“The big question is… “Are the particles retained in the body? Are they transported to certain organs, such as getting past the blood-brain barrier?”… A recent study found that microplastics can latch on to the outer membranes of red blood cells and may limit their ability to transport oxygen. The particles have also been found in the placentas of pregnant women, and in pregnant rats they pass rapidly through the lungs into the hearts, brains and other organs of the [rat] foetuses.
A new review paper published on Tuesday, co-authored by Vethaak, assessed cancer risk and concluded: “More detailed research on how micro- and nano-plastics affect the structures and processes of the human body, and whether and how they can transform cells and induce carcinogenesis, is urgently needed…
It appears as if biochemistry and petrochemistry have been intermingled for decades, with scores of different plastics interacting with or leaching into our medicines, foods, in contact with our clothes, and/or rubbing off on our skin.
Many plastics can or do leach into water or transfer molecules to our bodies and these research projects confirm it. Few plastics can be proven completely inert and stable at extreme temperatures.
The most stable plastics tend to be rigid or to lack the suppleness or flexibility that markets demand. The “new car smell” and “soft touch surfaces” that luxury vehicle consumers crave are indicators that the plastics and malleable surfaces may be shedding molecules in high quantities - especially at high temperatures in closed vehicles during warm weather.
Hospitals could not function without disposable plastics. Neither could modern childcare. Perhaps we are doomed to see plastic molecules join the millions of bacteria and substances that our bodies absorb or harbor during a lifetime.
However, it would not surprise me if we found that the plastics we have enjoyed for the last century will turn out to be the long-term equivalent poison to human biology that freon and lead have been to the earth and its atmosphere.