Plastic: How Pollution Impacts Human Health

In the modern era, we use plastic in an astounding amount of products. Plastic is made, used, and discarded all over the world. It's understood that plastic pollution is damaging to the natural world for many reasons, but now, scientists have found that plastic might be dangerous to human health as well.

Global Production of Plastic

Plastic was invented in 1907, but the popularity of plastic exploded in the 1950s. Plastic was used as an inexpensive, durable packaging material and used to mass-produce countless different types of goods. Since 1950, an estimated 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide. That's 380 million tons per year. This number is astounding and hard to imagine, but it's no surprise that this amount of plastic has changed the face of our world and our health.

The Rise of Plastic Pollution

As more and more plastic is produced and dumped into landfills and the ocean, the effects on the environment grow. We know that plastic can choke sea creatures and kill vital food sources in their ecosystem. It can pollute soil and water sources, which spreads to hurt plants and animals on land. But now, there's mounting evidence that tiny plastic particles are disrupting human immune and endocrine systems, too. In Africa, plastic has also contributed to the spread of dangerous diseases. Scientists knew these diseases were carried by mosquitoes but struggled to find their breeding ground. Eventually, through their studies of ill children, scientists determined that these mosquitoes were breeding in nests of plastic trash in the streets and around homes.

Plastic's Toxicity to Humans

High amounts of microplastics hide in our food, water, and air. We ingest plastic in tiny amounts every day. These plastic products contain chemicals that may have many negative effects on our health, contributing to hormonal cancers, ADHD, infertility, autism, and other illnesses. Sometimes, plastic is home to bacteria, too, increasing our risk of infection. Because these plastics aren't biodegradable, they sit out in the sun, collect in water, and become a perfect petri dish for dangerous bacteria that infect humans and animals alike.

Plastic Pollution and Cancer

Research on the link between plastic and cancer is ongoing. Though nothing is certain yet, there is mounting evidence that plastic used in certain situations and conditions might increase the risk of cancer. For example, plastic wasn't meant to be heated, but these days, many containers for leftover food are made from plastic, so people put them in the microwave. Experts advise against doing this because heat from the microwave might activate harmful chemicals in the plastic. Always make sure that a plastic container is undamaged and labeled as microwave-safe before heating it.

Burning plastic waste in your yard, whether it's sheeting or Styrofoam, is against the law in many places because it releases harmful chemicals into the air. These airborne particles are harmful to the environment, and they might also be carcinogens.

Plastic Pollution and Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Many of the chemical additives that give plastics their shape and color are known to be hazardous to humans. In particular, bisphenol A is an endocrine disrupter. This means that hormone function becomes disordered, which can cause development disorders like ADHD and autism. Research on the causes of these disorders and the harmful effects of chemicals like bisphenol A is ongoing.