Microplastic Pollution: German Study Finds Plastic Byproducts In Over 97% Of Children Tested

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In a new study conducted by the German Environmental Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute, plastic byproducts were found in almost all blood and urine samples taken from children between the ages of 3 and 17. These shocking results reveal the severity of global plastic pollution, and the urgent need for action as opposed to current complacency on the issue. 

Last Saturday, findings of an unpublished scientific study by the German Environmental Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute were shared on Der Spiegel, revealing that 97%-100% of blood and urine samples collected from 2,500 children between 3 to 17 showed plastic toxicity. The samples were taken between 2014 and 2017, as a part of a government study on human biomonitoring. The researchers looked for traces of 15 types of plastic byproducts.  

The study also found in particular that there were high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) found in samples. PFOA is commonly used in cookware and waterproof clothing, and is an extremely persistent and bioaccumulative toxic substance that has been associated with affecting reproductive systems and the liver. These results indicate that children are continually being exposed to plastics, including toxic types, from toys to cookware and furniture.

One of the authors of the study, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, told Der Spiegel that this research “clearly shows that plastic ingredients, which are rising in production, are showing up more and more in the body. It is really worrying that the youngest children are the most affected.”

Research team said that these findings should be a clear call for more regulations against the use of PFOA. While a worldwide ban of this substance is to take effect in 2020 as agreed at the UN Conference of the Parties in May, the European Union is to place an exemption for medical textiles. This has resulted in criticism from a number of organisations including the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) who expressed in a joint statement disapproval for the EU’s exemption that would “undermine an otherwise effective worldwide ban”.

Currently, here in Asia, steps against plastic pollution has remained minimal. Some businesses in Hong Kong have begun to tackle the problem by implementing take-back recycling vending machines for plastic bottles. Authorities have also attempted to fight plastic waste through schemes aimed at reducing single-use plastics in restaurants. More comprehensive controls and regulations need to be put in place if we are to avoid the potentially serious health effects and environmental damage of plastic pollution. 

What this piece of federal research shows is that we can no longer be complacent about the consequences of our global plastic pollution crisis. In a recent report by the World Bank, water pollution was named as the “invisible threat” that the planet is ignoring, which will bring negative cascading effects from health complications to agricultural and economic problems. Another assessment, conducted by the World Health Organisation, also warned of the dangers of water pollution – especially pollution caused by microplastics that are increasingly present in drinking water. From being found in our waterways to our oceans and food chain, this latest piece of research finding microplastics in bodily samples makes clear that more stringent measures against plastic waste need to be taken.

This post was updated on December 12 2019 to clarify that the study is unpublished and to link to the original Der Spiegel piece that first shared the news.

Lead image courtesy of RawPixel.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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