UNM researchers discover microplastic in placentas

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s an alarming discovery tied to pregnancy in new research led by the University of New Mexico. Scientists have found trace amounts of plastic in 100% of the human placentas they tested. “It was easy to find the plastics, that was probably the part that was alarming to us,” Matthew Campen, UNM Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

After three years of research led by scientists at UNM, that alarming discovery is the amount of tiny plastic particles researchers found in human placentas. “This is a lot. It’s really obvious that these particles have embedded themselves in the placentas,” said Campen.

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Out of 62 placentas they tested, each had 6.5 to nearly 685 micrograms of microplastic per gram of tissue. Microplastics are manmade materials that can’t be seen by the human eye and don’t break down easily.

“It’s not necessarily the bottle that we are drinking right now or the fork we are using. What it is, once it enters that landfill, it starts to degrade, ultimately it ends up back into the ecosystem into our food,” said Marcus Garcia, UNM postdoctoral fellow.

“There were this much plastic in tissues that are only eight months, imagine what you have as a full-grown adult in other parts of your body,” said Campen.

The amount researchers found is equal to about a droplet of water per placenta. Researchers say the findings show just how much plastic is in the environment, and they caution that more research is needed on how plastic affects the human body.

Scientists also warn that the health of a placenta can make a big difference in a baby’s overall development. “That’s not to say that plastics are known to cause any of that, but if they affect how the placenta functions if they affect how the placenta grows. If the placenta doesn’t grow adequately, it can’t provide nutrients to the growing baby,” said Campen.

UNM says it is continuing this research with the Baylor College of Medicine and will soon take a deeper look into expectant mothers’ eating habits to see how that might play a role.

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