• Tech Tech

Grim new study sheds light on factor driving surge in medical costs: 'An urgent human health problem'

"We are coming to reckon with the reality."

"We are coming to reckon with the reality."

Photo Credit: iStock

Understanding of the effects of microplastics on humans is growing. They have been found in the blood, heart, lungs, and other major organs, and they have been linked to cancer and Alzheimer's disease, in addition to other health complications. 

One study has revealed further alarming problems that microplastics are responsible for.

What's happening? 

Research published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, summarized by The Hill, has detailed how the presence of microplastics in the food and water of United States citizens has led to increasing rates of sickness and higher medical bills.

A quarter of a trillion dollars was added to the collective healthcare bill of U.S. residents in 2018, representing 5% of the country's healthcare costs and 1% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

"We are coming to reckon with the reality that this is an urgent human health problem," said Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician at New York University's School of Medicine, per The Hill

The study found that micro- and nanoplastics' effects on the body's hormones led to rising cases of obesity, heart disease, premature birth, and cancer, while the healthy development of children is also a notable concern.

"Hormones are the signaling molecules underlying basic biological functions: temperature, metabolism, salt, sugar and sex," Trasande added. "When these hormones are hacked, there are a broad array of consequences, cradle to grave."

While the chemicals leaching from plastics is a distinct problem, micro- and nanoplastics serve as carriers of disease, and they can increase the risk of illness if they persist in the human body.

Among the biggest offenders in terms of chemical exposure are polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which have been described as responsible for $161 billion in medical costs from illnesses. These chemicals are found in electronics, furniture, and textiles.

Why is this concerning? 

Microplastics are already pervasive, and we're only just starting to get evidence about the harm they can cause. While there are ways to remove them from water sources, the technology is yet to be scaled up. 

In the meantime, this pollution will continue to disrupt our bodies and increase medical bills.

What can be done about microplastics?

Avoiding single-use plastics is among the biggest lifestyle changes you can make to decrease plastic pollution levels. Appropriately recycling any plastics you do use is essential, and keeping the material out of landfills and water sources will help reduce plastic's polluting impact. 

Meanwhile, since polybrominated diphenyl ethers were found to be the most responsible for rising healthcare costs, reducing e-waste, donating old furniture, and avoiding fast fashion will help reduce the risk of these chemicals entering our bodies after they have been disposed of. 

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider