It has been found in Arctic sea ice, one of the most remote and inhospitable places on the planet; at the bottom of the world’s deepest ocean trench, at thirty-six thousand feet below sea level. It’s present in the water that comes out of your tap. It litters beaches around the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of floating debris that stretches across an area roughly the size of France between California and Hawaii, is thought to contain some 1.8 trillion plastic shards. It’s in the “cleanest” air above Mount Everest. It’s inside the fish we eat, as well as in fruit and vegetables. It’s even in the rain.

As author, Matt Simon, writes in A Poison Like No Other: How Microplastics Corrupted Our Planet and Our Bodies: “We’ve contaminated every corner of Earth.”

Dealing with discarded plastic is bad enough, but it’s when it starts to break down that the real trouble begins. The very thing that makes plastic so useful and ubiquitous – its toughness – means it never really goes away. It just gets smaller and smaller: eventually small enough to enter our bodies.

Microplastics, meanwhile, don’t just leach nasty chemicals; they attract them. Persistent Bioaccumulative and Toxic substances (PBTs) are a hodgepodge of harmful compounds. Like microplastics, which are often referred to in the scientific literature as MPs, PBTs are everywhere these days. When PBTs encounter MPs, they stick to them. “In effect, plastics are like magnets for PBTs” is how the Environmental Protection Agency has put it. Consuming microplastics is thus a good way to swallow old poisons.

Here are just a few examples of how plastic is poisoning us.

  1. Miscarriages and stillbirths.
  2. Neurodevelopmental disorders in children.
  3. Reproductive and genital defects.
  4. Allergies.
  5. Early puberty in girls.
  6. Low sperm count.
  7. Aggression and hyperactivity.

Read the full article about plastic and public health by Tess Lowery at Global Citizen.