What You Need to Know About the Impact of Plastics on Human Health
July 19, 2023
From production to disposal, plastics wreak havoc on human, plant, and animal health and cause immense amounts of waste in our ecosystems, clogging our land, air, and waterways. Plastic pollution in particular poses a serious threat to all life on Earth because of the toxic nature of the chemical additives used during the production process. Recent research reveals plastics are able to enter into the human bloodstream, permanently residing in our bodies until the day we die.
Plastics are a pervasive and dangerous issue, likely hitting us harder than climate change ever will. If we do not figure out solutions, or the severity of the issue, life as we know it faces an impending deathly threat. To tackle these challenges, we must first understand how plastic harms human health.
How are plastics detrimental to human health?
Did you know the most commonly used plastic products carry toxic chemicals easily inhaled and ingested by humans? In fact, the incineration of plastic waste in the disposal stage disperses these chemicals into the air and causes the contamination of water and soil, lethal to all people who inevitably come in contact with it.
Every time someone litters at the beach or fails to dispose of their waste properly, they contribute to the spread of toxic chemicals into the environment. This is because ocean waves and radiation from the sun break down plastics such as water bottles, producing microplastics. Microplastics float around in the environment, carrying chemicals used in plastic production along with them and end up being consumed by people through food, water, and breathing them from air.
Studies have shown microplastics significantly damage cells in the human body, leading to serious health effects, including cancers, lung disease, and birth defects. Not only this, but toxic chemical additives in plastics can alter hormone activity in the human body which disrupts reproduction, growth and cognitive function. Microplastics also act as vessels for pathogens to enter the human body which increases the spread of disease.
Plastics production is hazardous to human health and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, marking plastics as a significant aspect of the fight against climate change. In fact, in 2022 the global cost of plastic-related health effects was estimated at a staggering $100bn per year.
Who is most affected by plastic in the environment?
Can you imagine knowing the air you breathe everyday is invading your body? This is a reality for residents of “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana where plastics plants along the lower Mississippi River have contributed to the highest rates of cancer in the United States amongst marginalized communities. We must recognize how the dangers of plastics for human health are also an issue of human rights and environmental injustice, as the question of who experiences these health effects the most is connected to where you live and the air you breathe.
Children and infants in the womb are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of plastics due to the early stages of human development being particularly sensitive to hazardous chemicals in the environment. Exposure to plastics has been found to increase the risks of birth complications, lung growth and childhood cancer. Crucially, this means plastic pollution will continue to wreak havoc on our lives and earth for generations to come.
The United States is one of the top contributors of plastic waste globally. The impacts of plastics on human health are particularly concerning due to the difficulty of removing plastic from the environment once they have entered ecosystems.
By signing the petition calling for the US to join the Global Plastics Treaty, you can help ensure the White House commits once and for all to end the production and sale of single-use plastics by 2030, introduce measures to combat plastic pollution by regulating the entire life cycle of plastic, and requiring producers and retailers of plastics to be liable for the cost of any environmental or health-related damages. Join the fight to End Plastic Pollution and together we will make a difference in raising awareness and reducing the impact of plastics on human health.