You’re made of water, bone, blood, muscle and fat; you’re also a few parts plastic.
That is, if you prefer sea salt on your meal. Or honey, shellfish, beer or tap water. Recent studies have found microplastics, tiny shards of degraded plastic, in them all. Even the air is filled with the minuscule plastic bits.
Hold off on the panic though; it’s still too early for researchers to say what the effects of microplastic consumption are, although preliminary studies in animals suggest that they can certainly cause harm. In humans, though, it’s a bit harder to study because nearly everyone has microplastics in their bodies, so there’s no control group for comparison.
The pieces themselves seem relatively benign — they’re just tiny bits of plastic, looking in large quantities like so much sand, created as larger plastic objects gradually degrade. NOAA defines a microplastic as anything plastic under 5 millimeters — large enough to see easily with the human eye, although many can be microscopic. Most are small enough to pass through the digestive system without causing harm, but they can also hold on to and deliver pollutants inside our bodies, something the animal studies supported.
There’s been evidence that microplastics have been infiltrating our bodies for a few years now: A 2013 study found them in German honey and sugar, 2014 saw them pop up in some shellfish and beer, and in 2015 they were found in Chinese table salt and took to the air in Paris. The latest such research also examines salt — an April study found microplastic particles in 16 of 17 brands of sea salt, and a recent Guardian article details more work in the same vein.
Here and Gone
In most cases, the levels of microplastics were quite low — with the notable exception of shellfish. Regular and even excessive consumers of salt, beer and honey will only ingest a few thousand particles a year at most from those sources, and we’ll never notice their fleeting passage. The point though, is that these products come from very different places, which is an indication that microplastics are far more pervasive than we might think. Plastic in the air brings new concerns as well, as it can enter the lungs and spread through the environment more readily.
And those shellfish? The study found the average European could consume up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic from them annually.
8-6-2021 (August 6, 2021) is the Snakiest day of the year and it’s also this year’s CircuitPython Day! The day highlights all things CircuitPython and Python on Hardware. See you there!
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.
Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!
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EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey
New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — NEW PRODUCTS – Silicone Keycap Molds – MX Compatible Switches
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