In a review article published on November 18, 2021, in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Christos Symeonides and co-authors from The Minderoo Foundation, Perth, Australia, discuss human and planetary health hazards of plastics along their life cycle starting with the hazards of production, and continuing with those of use and waste.

Concerning hazards connected with plastic production, the medical professionals point out that crude-oil spillage at the extraction and transportation entails environmental hazards as does the emission of carbon dioxide and particulate matter during the further processing of plastics. These hazards have direct and indirect effects on human health. The authors further report that several chemicals used intentionally in plastic processing (e.g., additives, processing agents) together with non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) could leach during manufacturing into the environment or during use into foodstuffs. Symeonides and colleagues emphasized that knowledge on direct human health outcomes of exposure to these chemicals is limited. The review provides insights on health effects that have been connected with specific chemical groups (bisphenols, phthalates, halogenated flame retardants, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) as well as an overview of plastic health impacts based on a systematic review and meta-analysis. Concerning waste, the authors elaborated on the human health effects from ingestion and inhalation of plastic fragmentation products – micro- and nanoplastics. Microplastics have been detected in a diverse range of foods and beverages (FPF reported) as well as in human stool (FPF reported and here) and the placenta (FPF reported and here). Five Horizon 2020 research projects are now working to better understand micro- and nanoplastic impacts on human health (FPF reported). One of the projects (AURORA) is specifically focusing on the assessment of microplastics’ effects in the placenta and the developing fetus.

The medical professionals conclude that plastics are associated with “an intricate set of hazards that we poorly understand and are currently failing to manage. […]  Market forces are not factoring in the cost of managing hazards to human and planetary health, and current generations are effectively passing responsibility for the problem onto future generations.”

Symeonides and co-authors believe that “plastics can be simpler, safer and recyclable.” To reach this goal, they propose to improve recycling technology, redesign plastics and their regulation, and implement an extended producer responsibility scheme (FPF reported and here) with the support of policy-makers “by banning unnecessary plastic applications” (FPF reported), and setting a threshold of recycled content (FPF reported). Further options for change include “post-marketing surveillance” as for pesticides and transparency on additives and NIAS (FPF reported and here). Here, the medical professionals emphasized that “we should not be producing vast quantities of chemicals of unknown human toxicity if we cannot detect human exposure nor monitor health effects.”

In another review article published on December 17, 2021, in the journal Environmental Research, Badreddine Barhoumi and colleagues from IAEA Environment Laboratories, Monaco, provided an overview of PFAS in food contact materials (FCMs) and microplastics. For the systematic review, the authors searched the databases Web of Science, Science Direct, and Google Scholar for literature published between 2010 and April 2021. Barhoumi et al. focused on three topics: (1) occurrence of PFAS in FCMs and their migration, (2) PFAS in microplastics and their sorption mechanisms, and (3) knowledge gaps and priorities for further research on these topics.

Barhoumi and co-authors reported that perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs), fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and polyfluoroalkyl phosphate diesters (diPAPs) are present in a diverse set of FCMs and concentrations vary with the country due to the different formulations used and legislations applying. They further summarized that PFAS migration into food depends on “the nature and initial concentration of chemicals in the packaging material, the chain length of PFASs used, the characteristics of the foodstuff, the polymer type, and the duration of contact and temperature.” Concerning PFAS and microplastics, the authors summarized that environmental conditions, physicochemical properties of microplastics, as well as PFAS’s characteristics significantly influence PFAS adsorption processes on microplastics. Since most of the studies reviewed were performed under laboratory conditions, the scientists emphasized that future research should be conducted under realistic environmental conditions.



Symeonides, C. (2021). “Buy-now-pay-later: Hazards to human and planetary health from plastics production, use and waste.Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. DOI: 10.1111/jpc.15777

Barhoumi, B. (2021). “A review on per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) in microplastic and food-contact materials.Environmental Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.112595