UEG press release

UEG Week: Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in ‘first study of its kind’

October 23, 2018

UEG Week: Microplastics discovered in human stools across the globe in ‘first study of its kind’

(Vienna, October 23, 2018) Microplastics have been found in the human food chain as particles made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene-terephthalate (PET) and others were detected in human stools, research presented today at the 26th UEG Week in Vienna reveals.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria monitored a group of participants from countries across the world, including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria. The results show that every single stool sample tested positive for the presence of microplastic and up to nine different plastic types were identified.

Microplastics are small particles of plastic less than 5mm and are used in various products for specific purposes; as well as being created unintentionally by the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic through weathering, degradation, wear and tear. Microplastic may impact human health via the GI tract where it could affect the tolerance and immune response of the gut by bioaccumulation or aiding transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens.

The pilot study was conducted with eight participants from across the globe. Each person kept a food diary in the week leading up to their stool sampling. The diaries showed that all participants were exposed to plastics by consuming plastic wrapped foods or drinking from plastic bottles. None of the participants were vegetarians and six of them consumed sea fish.

The stools were tested at the Environment Agency Austria for 10 types of plastics following a newly developed analytical procedure. Up to nine different plastics, sized between 50 and 500 micrometres, were found, with polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) being the most common. On average, the researchers found 20 microplastic particles per 10g of stool.

Lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl, who is presenting the findings at the 26th UEG Week, commented: “This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases. While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”

Global plastics production has increased substantially from the 1950s and continues to grow every year. For their many practical characteristics, plastics are pervasive in everyday life and humans are exposed to plastics in numerous ways. It is estimated that, through pollution, 2-5 % of all plastics produced end up in the seas. Once in the ocean, plastics are consumed by sea animals and enter the food chain where ultimately, they are likely to be consumed by humans. Significant amounts of microplastic have been detected in tuna, lobster and shrimp. Beyond that it is highly likely that during various steps of food processing or as a result of packaging food is being contaminated with plastics.

Notes to Editors

For further information, or to arrange an interview with Dr Philipp Schwabl, please contact Luke Paskins on +44 (0)1444 811099 or media@ueg.eu

About Dr. Philipp Schwabl

Dr. Philipp Schwabl is a researcher and physician scientist at the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Medical University of Vienna, in the research team of Prof. Dr. Thomas Reiberger, and presenting this study at the UEG Week Vienna 2018.

About Dr. Bettina Liebmann

Dr. Bettina Liebmann is a consultant on environmental analyses and respected expert on microplastics at the Environment Agency Austria. She guides the method development for microplastic analysis by micro FT-IR spectroscopy and imaging and works on microplastic projects at both national and international level.

About Umweltbundesamt – Environment Agency Austria

The Environment Agency Austria is the most important national environmental expert organisation and one of Europe´s leading environmental consultants. Since 2007, the organisation has been operating an accredited human biomonitoring laboratory where blood, urine, tissue etc. are analyzed for a variety of environmental contaminants. Furthermore, the Environment Agency Austria is an international pioneer in the analysis of microplastics. 

About UEG Week

UEG Week is the largest and most prestigious gastroenterology meeting in Europe and has developed into a global congress. It attracts over 14,000 participants each year, from more than 120 countries, and numbers are steadily rising. UEG Week provides a forum for basic and clinical scientists from across the globe to present their latest research in digestive and liver diseases, and also features a two-day postgraduate course that brings together top lecturers in their fields for a weekend of interactive learning.

About UEG

UEG, or United European Gastroenterology, is a professional non-profit organisation combining all the leading European societies concerned with digestive diseases. Together, its member societies represent over 22,000 specialists, working across medicine, surgery, paediatrics, gastrointestinal oncology and endoscopy. This makes UEG the most comprehensive organisation of its kind in the world, and a unique platform for collaboration and the exchange of knowledge.

To advance standards of gastroenterological care and knowledge across Europe and the world, UEG offers numerous activities and initiatives, including: 

  • UEG Education, the universal source of knowledge in gastroenterology, providing online and classroom courses, a huge online library and delivering the latest GI news, fostering debate and discussion
  • Activity Grants, promoting and funding educational projects in the field of digestive health to advance and harmonise the training and continuing education of professionals
  • UEG Journal, published bi-monthly, covering translational and clinical studies from all areas of gastroenterology
  • EU Affairs, promoting research, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of digestive diseases, and helping develop an effective health policy for Europe
  • Quality of Care, European-based and English clinical practice guidelines, clinical standards, consensus, position papers and standard protocols in the field of digestive health, are available in the repository

Luke Paskins on +44 (0)1444 811099 or media@ueg.eu

Find out more about UEG’s work by visiting www.ueg.eu or contact:        

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References

  • Schwabl, P. et al (2018), Assessment of microplastic concentrations in human stool – Preliminary results of a prospective study, Presented at UEG Week 2018 Vienna, October 24, 2018.
  • European Chemicals Agency. 2018. Microplastics. [ONLINE] Available at: echa.europa.eu/hot-topics/microplastics. [Accessed 21 August 2018].
  • Hohenblum P., Liebmann B., Liedermann M. (2015): Plastic and Microplastic in the Environment. Environment Agency Austria, Vienna. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.umweltbundesamt.at/fileadmin/site/publikationen/REP0551.pdf
  • Powell JJ, Thoree V, Pele LC. Dietary microparticles and their impact on tolerance and immune responsiveness of the gastrointestinal tract. The British journal of nutrition. 2007;98 Suppl 1:S59-63.
  • Geyer, Roland, Jenna R. Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law. "Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made." Science advances 3.7 (2017): e1700782.
  • Romeo T, Pietro B, Peda C, Consoli P, Andaloro F, Fossi MC. First evidence of presence of plastic debris in stomach of large pelagic fish in the Mediterranean Sea. Marine pollution bulletin. 2015;95(1):358-361.
  • Murray F, Cowie PR. Plastic contamination in the decapod crustacean Nephrops norvegicus (Linnaeus, 1758). Marine pollution bulletin. 2011;62(6):1207-1217.
  • Devriese LI, van der Meulen MD, Maes T, et al. Microplastic contamination in brown shrimp (Crangon crangon, Linnaeus 1758) from coastal waters of the Southern North Sea and Channel area. Marine pollution bulletin. 2015;98(1-2):179-187.

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