Micro- and nanoplastics: a reasonable public health concern

The second CUSP policy brief outlines the extent to which the research carried out across the five CUSP projects has helped identify the risks related to micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs) for human health.

Over the past three years, the European Commission’s Research Cluster to Understand the Health Impacts of Micro- and Nanoplastics (CUSP) has been dedicated to advancing our understanding of the health impacts associated with MNPs. Its latest policy brief, “Micro- and Nanoplastics and Public Health: A Reasonable Concern,” highlights key findings from CUSP’s research efforts and underscores the importance of addressing this emerging public health concern. 

From the more than 50 papers published so far by the five CUSP research projects, it is clear that MNPs are a public health matter. The hazards, exposures and risks of individual types of plastics and their specific chemical additives need to be further investigated, especially with regard to long-term effects. 

CUSP researchers have found that MNPs, particularly nanoplastics, exhibit potential carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reproductive toxic effects. The evidence gathered shows that MNPs can enter the human body through inhalation and ingestion, with small MNPs able to translocate into the bloodstream. Most studies to date have been short-term, highlighting a significant gap in our understanding of the long-term effects of MNPs on human health. Further research is needed to establish dose-response relationships and mechanisms of action. 

It is essential that future studies investigate representative MNPs with different chemical compositions and physicochemical properties similar to those found in the environment. The results of the CUSP research have far-reaching implications for European policies and legislation on chemicals, plastics, food and water. Areas such as carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory toxicity, and fate and exposure assessment of MNPs can inform regulatory decision making. 

The policy brief also identifies several knowledge gaps that need to be addressed, including the need for representative materials, transparency of information, improvements in in vitro testing methods, understanding body barriers, conducting long-term studies, establishing causal links, optimising analytics, exploring vector effects, ensuring regulatory acceptance, assessing environmental fate and exposure, and identifying at-risk populations. 

 

Reference 

CUSP (April 23, 2024). “Micro- and Nanoplastics and Public Health: A Reasonable Concern” DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.11035612 

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