In an opinion article published on July 17, 2020, in Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, author Rick Smith discusses the rise of plastic consumption during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the threat microplastics pose to the environment, and the results of an experiment on himself to measure his intake of microplastics. In an earlier book he wrote a decade ago, Smith tracked the presence of plasticizers in his own blood. “One of the puzzling things that we noticed throughout all of our experimentation is that we could never get our levels of plasticizing chemicals to zero – even though we avoided using certain types of plastics around the house. Could this have been because we all carry measurable amounts of plastic bits in us all the time?”

To further investigate, he recently developed an experiment in collaboration with a research lab at the University of Rochester in the US. He tracked the food contact materials (FCMs) used to package and cook the food he ate over a six-day period in January 2020 and provided stool samples to the lab for analysis. Using the first two days to document his standard diet and purchasing practices, the following days he describes trying to increase his exposure to microplastics through eating shrink-wrapped foods, increasing consumption of bottled water, and eating mussels and canned fish reported to have higher microplastics levels. Following the analysis, researchers in the lab told Smith that “we found microplastics in you, and more fibres were observed in the later samples.”

This of course is not the first time microplastics have been found in humans, and the article also discusses some of the many other studies about microplastics done previously in animals, including one study that identified microplastics being passed from a mother rat to her fetus during . For Smith, this experiment made the issue personal. He goes on to write about some of the largest concerns held by scientists in the field, including that microplastics may be able to transfer into the brains of human fetuses during development before the creation of a natural barrier we all have that would prevent this. “Contrary to the industry’s cynical use of the pandemic to argue that plastics are good for human health,” Smith writes, “the rapidly developing science points to the opposite conclusion. We’re drowning in the stuff. And it’s time to drain the plastic swamp.”

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Rick Smith (July 17, 2020). “We are all plastic people now, in ways we can’t see – and can no longer ignore.” The Globe and Mail