Microplastics have been found in tap and bottled water, human blood, breast milk

The research is increasingly finding microplastics in humans. There are several routes of exposure for microplastics: inhalation, contact with the skin and ingestion. 

Breast Milk

Raman Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breast Milk

According to this study published in Polymers, microplastics have been detected in human breast milk. In a study of 34 women, 26 were found to have microplastics in their breast milk – 76%. The most common types of plastic found were polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polypropylene (PP). They studied particles as small as 0.002mm (2 microns).

The subjects’ data was analysed based on factors such as age, use of bodycare products with microplastics in them, consumption of seafood, beverages and food in packaging, but no significant relationships could be found. The researchers determined that this suggests that human exposure to microplastics is inevitable.

Bottled Water

Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water

Published in Frontiers, this study showed that 93% of bottles processed from 19 locations across nine countries were found to contain microplastics. 259 bottles were tested from 11 globally sourced brands of bottled water. 

An average of 10.4 particles, >0.1mm in size and 325 particles sized between 0.065 and 0.1mm were found per litre of bottled water tested. Polypropylene was the most common type of plastic found, which is a common type of plastic used for bottle caps.

Tap Water

Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt


159 water samples were collected from taps in cities across 7 geographical regions: USA (33); Europe (18); Beirut, Lebanon (16); Jakarta, Indonesia (21); Kampala, Uganda (26); New Delhi, India (17); Quito, Ecuador (24).

The study tested for particles 0.1mm and larger only. 81% of the samples were found to contain anthropogenic particles, a total of 539 particles. The range found was 0 to 61 particles/litre, with an average of 5.45 particles/litre. The majority of the particles were fibres. The length of the fibres varied from 0.10-5.00mm with an average of 0.96mm.

A higher density of particles was found in developed countries than in developing countries.


Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood

A study published in Environment International found microplastics in human blood in 17 out of 22 healthy donors. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) (50% of all donors) was the most commonly found plastic, followed by polystyrene (PS) (36%), polyethylene (PE) (23%) and Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) (5%).

It is assumed that microplastics can enter the blood stream via mucosal contact, which can be a result of ingestion or inhalation.


Detection of Various Microplastics in Human Stool: A Prospective Case Series

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that all 8 out of 8 stool samples tested contained microplastics. There were 9 different types of plastic detected; the most common types were polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). An average of 20 pieces were found in each 10g specimen

Lung Tissue

Detection of microplastics in human lung tissue using μFTIR spectroscopy


A study published in Science of the Total Environment found microplastics in 11 out of 13 lung tissue samples. 12 polymer types were detected amongst the 39 microplastics found. Polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and resin were the most abundant. The results of the study suggest that the route of exposure is inhalation.  

Human Placentas

Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta

In a study published by Environment International, out of 6 placentas, 4 were found to have a total of 12 microplastic fragments. These ranged in size from 0.005mm to 0.01mm. 10 of the 12 were close to 0.01mm and 2 were approximately 0.005mm. These values are compatible with the possible transport via the bloodstream.

5 of the fragments were found on the fetal side, 4 in the maternal side and 3 in the chorioamniotic membranes (part of the amniotic sac which surrounds and protects the embryo). This shows that microplastics can reach the placenta tissues at all levels.

More Information

What was the municipal solid waste (MSW) in HK’s landfills made up of in 2020? 

Food    30.1%    3,255 tpd
Paper   24.5%   2,643 tpd
Plastic  21.4%   2,312 tpd
Metal     2.2%       238 tpd
Textiles  2.2%       242 tpd

Glass     1.7%       183 tpd