Potential Health Impact of Environmentally Released Micro- and Nanoplastics in the Human Food Production Chain: Experiences from Nanotoxicology

Bouwmeester, H.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Peters, R.J.B.


High concentrations of plastic debris have been observed in the oceans. Much of the recent concern has focused on microplastics in the marine environment. Recent studies of the size distribution of the plastic debris suggested that continued fragmenting of microplastics into nanosized particles may occur. In this review we assess the current literature on the occurrence of environmentally released micro- and nanoplastics in the human food production chain and their potential health impact. The currently used analytical techniques introduce a great bias in the knowledge, since they are only able to detect plastic particles well above the nanorange. We discuss the potential use of the very sensitive analytical techniques that have been developed for the detection and quantification of engineered nanoparticles. We recognize three possible toxic effects of plastic particles: first due to the plastic particles themselves, second to the release of persistent organic pollutant adsorbed to the plastics, and third to the leaching of additives of the plastics. The limited data on microplastics in foods do not predict adverse effect of these pollutants or additives. Potential toxic effects of microplastic particles will be confined to the gut. The potential human toxicity of nanoplastics is poorly studied. Based on our experiences in nanotoxicology we prioritized future research questions.