Microplastics exist in our waterways, oceans and even our bodies.
“It can penetrate through the blood vessels. It has been found in the brain,” said Petr Vozka, a biochemistry assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles.
Microplastics are smaller particles of the plastics that we know, defined as a particle the size of one nanometer to five millimeters, he said.
Inside the lab, Vozka and other researchers and students are looking into microplastics and their impacts. Vozka says research shows on average, every person on the planet consumes or ingests five grams of microplastics every week.
“We don’t know what it is causing there, what adverse effects are caused by the microplastics,” he said.
There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of microplastics out there, which is why the California Ocean Protection Council adopted the first-of-its-kind strategy.
“It is the nation's first, potentially the first international, comprehensive microplastic strategy that outlines both a prioritized research plan to increase our understanding of microplastics, but it also includes recommended early actions to actually reduce microplastic pollution,” said Kaitlyn Kalua, water quality program manager at the California Ocean Protection Council.
It’s a multi-year road map that they hope will reduce pollution in the environment.
“Microplastics are the number one source of pollution in our waterways, and unfortunately, water suppliers and water treatment facilities don't currently have an effective way at filtering those out,” said Kelly Shannon, the development and communications director with Los Angeles Waterkeeper.
The advocacy organization is part of the International Waterkeeper Alliance. They find plastic of all kinds lining waterways, beaches — you name it. A lot of microplastics come from the breakdown of these more oversized items.
“This is not just about environmental health. This is about human health as well,” she said.
A better understanding of the impacts these microplastics have on us is also part of the strategy.
In Vozka’s lab, they are taking it one step further by analyzing the compounds absorbed by microplastics.
“We are trying to see which compounds are absorbing on the microplastic surface and if we can detect these compounds and quantify these compounds," he said. “The question is if they disorb in the body, how can you know the effect on human bodies?”
A study led by researchers at the Hull York Medical School and the University of Hull found that high levels of ingested microplastics in the human body can potentially harm human cells.
As research continues, the council hopes the strategy can provide guidelines for microplastics and the best ways to reduce them circulating us.