LSU begins research on the impact of everyday product, microplastic

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD)- LSU Chemical Engineering Professors Bhuvnesh Bharti and Kalliat T. Valsaraj are taking a closer look into the use of plastic, which may cause lingering health issues by the way the planet is currently using plastic.

The National Science Foundation Chemistry Division awarded LSU $300,000 dollars to begin research on the impact of microplastic on the air we breathe.

“It [plastic] doesn’t really degrade, but it breaks up into smaller fragments. Those fragments are called microplastics and these specific fragments were found in air, ocean and water bodies, and people are starting to look at the potential impact on human health,” Assistant Professor, Bhuvnesh Bharti said.

The two professors, along with graduate student Ahmed Al Harraq, say their goal is to find how the microplastic is created, what governs the spreading of the microplastic and how it will impact human health.

Valsaraj says the idea of the research was born when he found particles of plastic in areas where there has been no use of plastic. From there, the professor became curious on how can microplastic travel in the air so much.

“They are much like dust particles that transfer from place to place. I will be inhaling this as they are moving through the atmosphere, Valsaraj said.

Particles of plastic have already been found in foods like fish. Bharti says he is confident that one day we may have food labeled as “plastic free” just as we have food at the grocery store which is “gmo free”.

According to Valsaraj, plastic that is currently in our blood stream can not be detected, which makes this research even more important.

In 2019, the World Health Organization released a statement on their concern of microplastic.

“We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere –  including in our drinking-water,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, at WHO. “Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more. We also need to stop the rise in plastic pollution worldwide.”

In the mean time, the trio urges people to be more aware of the amount of plastic we use everyday.

“It’s the action we take today that will impact our future generations. That’s why we teach in our classes as well we have to be careful with what we synthesize, what we put in our environment and how we use it,” Bharti said. “We need to be a bit more cautions with the use and dispose of plastic.”

According to WHO,  microplastics even get into drinking-water.

“Microplastics may enter drinking-water sources in a number of ways: from surface run-off (e.g. after a rain event), to wastewater effluent (both treated and untreated), combined sewer overflows, industrial effluent, degraded plastic waste and atmospheric deposition,” according to WHO.

According to graduate student Ahmed Al Harraq, the image above shows a bottle with only water and another bottle containing water and microplastics. 

“When you shine a laser through water that contains a lot of these tiny particles, the light is scattered and becomes visible through the liquid. You see in fact that the laser light is not visible in the bottle containing only water,” Al Harraq said.

While LSU is focusing on their study they encourage others to participate in recycling and educate yourself on the good and bad forms of plastic.

“We as a society need to come together,” Bharti said. “Find new biocompatible and biodegradable alternatives and replace polymers and plastics with those plant based plastics.”

More on microplastics in drinking water from WHO can be found here.

The professors say the research should take about four or five years, or even longer.

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