Nanoscale polystyrene plastics ingested by pregnant mammals are able to enter the intestinal barrier, reach the placenta's maternal and maternal barriers, and reach all fetal tissues.
Nanoscale plastic particles, similar to those commonly found in food and water, may pass from pregnant rats to their fetuses and impact on fetal development, according to a research conducted at Rutgers.
"Much is unknown, but this is certainly a reason for concern and a follow-up study," said Philip Demokritou, the Henry Rutgers Chair and professor in nanoscience and environmental bioengineering at the Rutgers School of Public Health.
According to Demokritou, erosion causes microscopic plastic particles to break apart from the billions of tons of plastics in the environment that are exposed to the elements. These substances mix with our food and air, and an average person consumes the equivalent amount of credit card each week.
Previous studies on pregnant laboratory animals have shown that adding these materials to food affects their children in many ways, although none of them examined whether mothers passed them on to their children in utero.
Five pregnant rats were given specially marked nanoscale plastics. Subsequent imaging revealed that these nanoplastic particles permeated not only their placentas, but also their livers, kidneys, hearts, and brains.
Intaked nanoscale polystyrene plastics may breach pregnant mammals' intestinal barrier, the placenta's maternal protective barrier, and all fetal tissues, according to the researchers. Future studies will investigate how different kinds of plastics alter cell barriers, how plastic particle size affects the process, and how plastics influence fetal development.
Demokritou, who teaches courses at Rutgers' School of Engineering, says the use of plastics has increased since the 1940s due to their low cost and versatile qualities. Over 80 percent of the 9 billion metric tons produced over the last 60 years ended up in the environment, and only 10 percent of them were recycled.
"Petroleum-based plastics aren't biodegradable, but weathering and photooxidation break them into tiny fragments, posing health threats to human lungs, placentas, and blood."
Pregnant lab animals are exposed to nanomaterials, which are hardly noticeable — and the development of their brains, livers, testicles, immune systems, and metabolisms.
Demokritou said there has been no evidence that pregnant humans unavoidably ingest nanosize plastics to their children.
Chelsea M. Cary, Glen M. DeLoid, Dimitrios Bitounis, Marianne Polunas, Michael J. Goedken, Brian Buckley, Byron Cheatham, Phoebe A. Stapleton, and Philip Demokritou, 14 February 2023, Nanomaterials. DOI: 10.3390/nano13040720