On October 29, 2018, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) released a communication on the human health risks from microplastics. Therewith, the BfR responds to recent results by Austrian researchers finding microplastic particles in human stool (FPF reported).

Regarding microplastics in food, the BfR refers to the scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the topic published in 2016 (FPF reported). According to EFSA, “intestinal absorption appears to be very low,” whereas “only microparticles smaller than 150 micrometers (µm, 1 µm corresponds to 0.001 mm) can cross the intestinal barrier and only microparticles smaller than 1.5 µm can reach organs located deeper,” the BfR reports. The institute’s own studies “did not reveal any evidence of damage to the intestinal tissue.” In contrast, a study published by Chinese researchers in August 2018 found microplastics to affect intestinal barrier function, gut microbiota composition, and metabolic indices in mice (FPF reported).

Regarding microplastics in cosmetic products, the BfR deems it “unlikely that health-relevant amounts of ethylene from polyethylene are released by microplastic particles during the passage through the gastrointestinal tract.” Whether hazardous substances “contribute to human exposure through uptake by loaded microplastic particles has not yet been researched,” the BfR further noted. Also, it has not been investigated “[w]hether and to what extent microplastic particles can act as vehicles for bacteria or viruses that have an influence on the safety of food products or the health of humans.”

In general, the BfR concludes that “[t]here is a great need for research into the question of whether and under what conditions microplastic particles can have a potential hazard.” Currently, “valid recommendations for protective measures cannot . . . be formulated.”

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BfR (October 29, 2018). “Is there a risk to human health from microplastics? More research and scientific data needed.BfR Communication No 033/2018