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While all this suggests that microplastic exposure is unavoidable, Mason says focusing on bottled water is worthwhile for two reasons.For starters, she says most of the particles her study found in plastic water bottles turned out to be fragments of polypropylene, which is the type of plastic used to make bottled water caps.
“We’re all exposed to so many chemicals every day that if you’re 30 and you develop some rare form of cancer, no one’s ever going to be able to connect that to something you were exposed to,” Mason says.
“Making that connection is basically impossible.” More of Mason’s research has found plastic contamination in tap water, beer and sea salt.
“Preliminary [rodent] studies from our group, and published studies from others, indicate that after maternal exposure, these particles have the propensity to cross the placental barrier and enter the fetal compartment, depositing in fetal organs,” Stapleton says.
What’s not clear, though, is how this plastic exposure affects human health.
“But the studies to prove [negative effects] need to be done.” Other researchers say we know enough already to deem these plastic exposures a threat to human health.
“In animal models and in epidemiological studies in humans, we have a correlation between plastic exposures and known health hazards,” says Frederick vom Saal, a distinguished professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Missouri.
Said Nestlé: “So far, our testing has not detected micro-plastics in our plastic water bottles beyond trace level.
It is not possible at this stage to determine exactly where such traces originate from.
In 2010 alone, up to 12 million metric tons were dumped into the world’s oceans, the study found.
Ironically, the volume and variety of plastic-related exposures is another of the major challenges researchers face when attempting to show that these pollutants could be making people sick.