Pollution by nano and microplastics in the workplace and health

June 21st, 2024

Presentation by Professor Deborah Glass (Monash University)

Nanoparticles, defined as particles with a diameter less than 100 nm, can be inhaled and enter the body through the lungs. They can also enter the body through the skin or gastrointestinal tract, be transported in blood and the lymphatic system and bypass barriers within the body which are generally impermeable to larger particles.

Further, substances adsorbed on the nanoparticles, can be delivered intracellularly or react with cell surface receptors, potentially initiating immune responses.

Immunological effects of nano-sized particles including both inflammation and immunosuppression have been shown in many animal studies. Laboratory studies have shown that some nanoparticles can trigger the production of reactive oxygen species and cause damage to cell membranes and DNA.

Nanoplastics have been found in human brains, hearts, lungs, breast milk, placenta and semen. Plastics vary in composition and can include toxic components, for example cadmium pigments are common in plastics. The effects of these nanoparticles on humans are unclear but likely to be variable and will be difficult to evaluate in humans.