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MicroPlastics: Understanding the Small Plastic Particles That Pose a Big Problem.

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

MicroPlastics: fighting an "invisible" enemy.

Microplastics, small plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, have become an increasingly urgent issue in the past few decades. With the widespread use of plastic products, microplastics have become ubiquitous in our environment, posing significant risks to both human health and the environment. In this article, we will explore the history of research on microplastics, including the origin of the term "microplastics" and the progress that has been made in understanding their impact on the environment and health.

How a Marine Biologist Coined the Term That Changed Our Understanding of Plastic Pollution

Microplastics are small plastic particles that can range in size from a few micrometers to 5 millimeters in diameter. They come from a large variety of sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic products, the release of microbeads from personal care products, and the fragmentation of fishing gear. Due to their small size, they can enter the food chain and be ingested by animals and humans, leading to serious health risks.

Credit to Marta Ortigosa (2019)

Origin of the Term "Microplastics".

The term "microplastics" was first used in scientific literature in 2004 by Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth, UK. Thompson used the term to describe the small plastic particles that he and his team found in the oceans during their research. Since then, the term has become widely used to describe small plastic particles in the environment.

How These Tiny Particles Pose a Significant Risk to Animal and Human Health.

Research has shown that microplastics can have serious impacts on both animal and human health. For animals, ingestion of microplastics can lead to physical harm and even death, with some studies finding that microplastics can cause organ damage and reproductive problems in fish and other marine life. In addition, microplastics can also have indirect impacts on animal health by providing a surface for harmful bacteria to grow.

Credit to Edwar Jenner (2020)

Advances in Detecting and Analyzing Microplastics to Better Understand Their Prevalence and Impact

Since the term "microplastics" was first coined in 2004, significant progress has been made in understanding the impact of microplastics on the environment and health. Studies have shown that microplastics are present in a wide range of environments, from oceans and rivers to freshwater lakes and even the air we breathe. In addition, researchers have developed new techniques for detecting and analyzing microplastics, which has led to a better understanding of their prevalence and impact.

The Need for Continued Research on Microplastics and Their Potential Consequences

Despite the progress we have made in understanding the impact of microplastics on the environment and health, the shocking truth is that we still know very little about their full extent. It's alarming to realize that there are critical gaps in our understanding of the long-term health effects of microplastic exposure in humans, as well as the sources and pathways of microplastics in the environment.

The clock is ticking, and urgent research is needed to fully comprehend the scope of this problem and its potential consequences. As individuals and as a society, it's high time we take immediate and bold actions to reduce our use of plastic products and to responsibly dispose of them. It's the only way we can minimize the creation and release of microplastics into the environment and safeguard our planet and future generations.

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