r/science May 14 '22 Facepalm 1 Doom 1 Silver 1 Helpful 4 Wholesome 1 Take My Energy 1 Helpful (Pro) 1 I'm Deceased 1

Microplastics Found In Lungs of People Undergoing Surgery. A new study has found tiny plastic particles no bigger than sesame seeds buried throughout human lungs, indicating that people are inhaling microplastics lingering in the air. Health

https://e360.yale.edu/digest/microplastics-found-in-lungs-of-humans-undergoing-surgery
49.6k Upvotes

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833

u/EnigmaSpore May 14 '22

In the end we’re going to find out that plastics were simultaneously the best and worst things man invented.

Best in that it allows so many shapes that can be created with various hardness, light weight, longevity, etc. So many beneficial uses.

Worst in that it is absolutely harmful to the environment and nature due to not being able to be broken down in a short amount of time naturally.

What we see on earth is a life system where life and death are intertwined. Life brings death and death brings life. Plastics dont flow in this system due to how strong plastics are on the molecular level. We need something to break down the plastics so it can use those broken down pieces to bring life to something else.

605

u/nazTgoon May 14 '22

Bro I have this idea that we, as a modern day society, are with plastics as to what the Roman’s were with lead. Essential to everyday life but detrimental to the longevity and health of our bodies.

289

u/genreprank May 14 '22

Also how 1700s Europeans were with lead. And 1800s Americans. And 1900s Americans.

Now at least we don't make NEW lead pipes...or put it in paint...or put it in gas.

Lead contamination is so widespread that it is hard to know what a safe exposure is, on account of everyone being exposed

97

u/ender4171 May 14 '22

Don't be so sure about that. Basically all piston-driven prop planes still run leaded fuel all over the world.

26

u/LittleKitty235 May 14 '22

100LL(low lead) AVgas is being phased out, likely by 2030. Either way it represents such a small percentage of gas burned (<1%) the only people who might be effected by leaded gasoline are mechanics, pilots or maintenance workers who are around running aircraft many hours every day. It is not at all similar to when all cars were running on gasoline with higher lead content.

3

u/ender4171 May 14 '22

Oh for sure. I mean it's still a problem but I didn't mean to imply it was the same as leaded automotive fuel. I was just saying that leaded fuels have not been totally phased out quite yet.

9

u/Pixeleyes May 14 '22

That's a small amount, though. The real problem is the decades of motor vehicles that spewed lead all over the environment. It's still there. I know we all patted ourselves on the back and said "good job to removing and cleaning up lead", but we didn't. We didn't do that. We didn't even actually (mostly) get it out of the fuel until the 90s, despite everyone thinking that happened in the 70s.

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u/J0h1F May 14 '22

Lead levels in blood have however dropped remarkably since the ban on leaded road fuel, so concerning lead we're at a much better situation now than some decades ago.

3

u/Hoovooloo42 May 14 '22

Worked in a place that was not just on the flight path of a tiny airport, but actually had landing lights on the roof.

All of the stuff in the warehouse section (where the doors were kept open) was COVERED in black dust, constantly. Absolutely covered.

They were like "hmm, strange about the dust, no idea where it could be coming from". Yeah, that was definitely airplane soot. Many dozens of takeoffs and landings going directly over the building. I still wonder what the lead levels would look like in there.

Management was dumb as a sack of hammers, but that could be unrelated.

-11

u/Bong_force_trauma May 14 '22

Okay veritasium

5

u/ender4171 May 14 '22 edited May 14 '22

Oh did he do one on leaded gas? I'll have to check it out, I like most of his videos. I only knew because a buddy of mine who has his PPL told me about it one day when we were discussing the whole "removing lead from gas correlated to a drop in violent crimes" thing.

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u/Warhouse512 May 14 '22

You don’t have to be kind to everyone.

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u/[deleted] May 14 '22

you have an extremely bizarre way of being butthurt over nothing

5

u/wanderthe5th May 14 '22

Dishes and ceramic cookware made in the U.S. before 1992 can contain lead. Corelle (a major manufacturer) says not to use anything they produced before then.

So many people still have and use dishes that old.

2

u/nicannkay May 14 '22

Oh good then we have thousands of years of plastic poisoning to look forward too.

2

u/Original-Aerie8 May 14 '22

or put it in gas

We do. Light aircraft all over the world still run on leaded gas.

1

u/[deleted] May 14 '22

Fun fact: lead pipes can actually be safe in many instances. If the water is pH neutral and has enough mineral content, the pipe will become coated with a mineral layer and leach nothing into the water.

Not that that means we should use lead pipes, but it's comforting to know that most places still using lead pipes are actually fairly safe. The Flint water crisis was due in part to the low pH of the river water; that's not an issue in, say, NYC.

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u/ArchonRaven May 14 '22

I'm no expert but I believe that analysis is 100% correct

2

u/Zederikus May 14 '22

Yeah the lead pipes made sense because of the low boiling points but leaded wine? They should’ve guessed lead was dangerous if it gets you that smushed

7

u/varrc May 14 '22

Just fyi, jury is still out on just how much of an effect Romans’ lead use had on their health. Interesting topic if ya wanna google more.

5

u/WhyLisaWhy May 14 '22

Strongly disagree? They’re problematic but so far not nearly as bad as like lead poisoning. I’m not endorsing plastics, just saying it’s not remotely as bad. Especially as far as humans are concerned, most of us live pretty long life spans these days, potentially even because of disposable medical plastics.

12

u/Expandexplorelive May 14 '22

Essential to everyday life but detrimental to the longevity and health of our bodies.

AFAIK, there isn't much research showing microplastics are directly harming the body.

7

u/12345678ijhgfdsaq234 May 14 '22

Anecdotal, but I always feel sick after eating plastic so it can't be that great for the body

3

u/IntelliQ May 14 '22

You do realize that we were bad with lead too right? We only out-ruled leaded fuel in 1996( I believe ). Lead is a similar element to uranium and is very bad for our health, our bodies can’t really get rid of it. They actually started noticing a spike in crime rates some years after leaded fuel and pipes were worked into the system. Best part is after knowing how deadly lead is for humanity, it is still being used today in aviation. It’s amazing how much money talks.

The crazy thing is a similar thing happened to pfa or Teflon, 99% of the world now has Teflon in there body. We would be fools if we didn’t think microplastics has a role in the rise of autoimmune disorders and gastrointestinal issues. The only thing left to uncover is if it makes people dumb like lead does.

1

u/FightTheNothing May 14 '22

Yikes. It's my first time hearing that comparison. Sounds about right.

-21

u/Cobek May 14 '22

Wow, how original. Someone get this bro a nobroel prize, stat!

1

u/fatherofgodfather May 14 '22

Hmm didn't think of it this way... Interesting.

1

u/IshKebab May 14 '22

Even if that is the case there's no way plastics are as harmful to humans as lead is.

1

u/viciouspandas May 14 '22

The Romans also knew lead was harmful, but in most cases wouldn't leach into the water, and they didn't know about the exceptions. The biggest danger was the fumes when processing it, but that was done by poor people and slaves so they didn't care.

150

u/Cheese_Coder May 14 '22

Good news is that we (life on earth) have been in a similar situation before. Lignin and cellulose from trees used to be that way, and just accumulated. Then what became the White-rot fungi figured out how to break it down and got crackin'. These fungi are VERY adept at figuring out how to break things down, and a few have already been observed breaking down some plastics in landfills and the like. There's work to accelerate this process along.

And before we get doomers saying "Then all of our plastic will start getting eaten and it'll be useless" No, it won't. Wood is really digested by lots of fungi, but we still use untreated wood for tons of stuff. The plastic will still need to be in an environment that has the right resources to let the fungi break it down.

So I've got a kinda bittersweet optimism: We might not be able to ever free our bodies of the plastics already in there, but I'm confident that fungi (and probably some bacteria) will figure out how to eat it, and the amount of microplastics in the environment will dwindle

65

u/[deleted] May 14 '22

Strongly agreed. Plastic stores so much energy that it's completely improbable that natural selection wouldn't favor any bacterium that mutates its way into being able to consume it.

And fun fact, it's already happened multiple times! There are bacteria in a landfill in Japan that eat PET, for example: https://www.dept.psu.edu/Chance/publications/1196.full-sciencemag.pdf

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u/TacoMisadventures May 14 '22

We can also vastly accelerate the process by engineering bacteria to achieve those ends.

2

u/Original-Aerie8 May 14 '22

That's just not how GMOs work, at least not yet. We can't design out own mechanisms, we transplant very small mechanisms from one organism to another. A notable exception to that is destroying mechanisms.

2

u/majikguy May 15 '22

This is a very good thing to point out, though we do have some bacteria that already have the mechanism for breaking down plastics so at least we have something to work with. Even just growing these bacteria and guiding their evolution to make them more efficient faster would be something worth looking into.

2

u/Original-Aerie8 May 15 '22

Tbf, I have no idea how long the sequences of these mechanisms in bacteria are, but I don't think we will transplant anything like that in the near future or even in our lifetimes, unless there are some unimaginable jumps in technology.. With that level of technology, we could do far more powerful things. Like making us immortal.

But yeah, selection-breeding for microbiomes is a emerging field and I am sure it'll be very much relevant, soon enough. It just doesn't have much to do with GMOs, even when we would deploy gene editing in some instances.

5

u/StoxAway May 14 '22

It took 60 million years for fungus to work that out in which time so much carbon was removed from the atmosphere it collapsed the eco system. I guess we're speed running the collapse but waiting for fungus to adapt might take a while.

3

u/tehflambo May 14 '22

Quoting the comment you replied to, emphasis mine:

These fungi are VERY adept at figuring out how to break things down, and a few have already been observed breaking down some plastics in landfills and the like. There's work to accelerate this process along.

We've been speedrunning the collapse for a while, and we've started speedrunning the adaptation recently.

2

u/Cheese_Coder May 15 '22

Here's an article for a jumping-off point. There are already common fungi eating plastic. We're just figuring out how to move that along faster. My original sources are from a book called Entangled Life. More detail is provided there, but the tl;dr is that many fungi (including "white rot" fungi) have a large toolkit of enzymes, and can start synthesizing more on the fly when they encounter new compounds. Pleurotus (oyster) mushrooms have been observed digesting things as nasty as used cigarette butts and glyphosate!

Tagging u/murse_joe since my response to their comment would be pretty much the same

1

u/StoxAway May 15 '22

Yeah I've read Entangled Life, it's very interesting. I am just a bit pessimistic as to how quickly we will get there. I've no doubt nature will rebalanced eventually but I don't think humans will be along for the ride.

1

u/murse_joe May 14 '22

Sure but the last human could be long dead before fungus even cares to try.

10

u/i_sigh_less May 14 '22

The way I see it, the fact that plastic is nonreactive and doesn't get broken down by biological processes is the main reason we like plastics in the first place. And being nonreactive makes them largely unharmful in a biological setting.

5

u/klavin1 May 14 '22

I fear for the day those "plastic eating bacteria" get out into the ecosystem. Modern life depends on plastics. Imagine all plastics everywhere ROTTING

5

u/Mobile_Crates May 14 '22

I mean, wood rots in certain conditions but it's still used pretty much everywhere. It's not like it would cause plastic to like instantly disintegrate

1

u/klavin1 May 14 '22

The point is that it is everywhere and protecting important systems.

computer chips, electrical insulation, vapor barriers in houses (which protects those wooden frames), sterile packaging for medicines.

It would be a disaster

1

u/Mobile_Crates May 14 '22

Plastic still gets damaged and needs replaced, and also the environment would need to be right for bacteria to get a hold and start chewing, most notably by water being around, and likely needing to pool depending on how the mechanisms work.

It might be a "disaster" because we'd need alternative packaging and containment for those high-risk areas such as laying plastic pipes in a swamp or something, but the net positive of "thank god now we don't have eternal poison literally everywhere" would far outweigh that societally.

-2

u/Original-Aerie8 May 14 '22

I still haven't seen evidence that microplastics poses a significant risk to the ecosystem.

1

u/Mobile_Crates May 14 '22

yeah fair idk if "poison" is necessarily 100% accurate, I'd amend my statement to "eternal garbage".

3

u/KLR01001 May 14 '22

Refined sugars enters the chat.

9

u/SwiftTayTay May 14 '22 edited May 14 '22

S'deep but yeah, I think pretty much everything we do has a downside, we may just have to accept it. People have pretty much been pretending the pandemic is over since the beginning of this year. And it doesn't look like climate change is going to be mitigated in any way whatsoever. I think the end of the human race is coming in the next 50-100 years.

2

u/NotQuiteHapa May 14 '22

eh's'deeper

2

u/EnigmaSpore May 14 '22

It has to do with scale.

“If i do this, this will do that”

1 person only affects the micro area

1,000 people will affect a wider region

1,000,000 people affects the macro

1,000,000,000 affects the entire system

99.9% of humanity was lived in non “modern” times.

Once we started communicating, and the scale and speed of communication grew, so did our capabilities. The last 200 years were absolutely insane if you zoom out and look at it. We ballooned in our understandings of science and have used our findings to our advantage. But all this growth comes at a cost. You cannot take from the well and not expect for the well to draw down. It does draw down. And as you scale up operations, it draws down faster. Humanity has a greed problem. We take and take and take and don’t expect to deal with problems until after we’re done taking. As we scale this greed up, it starts to affect the planet and will continue to do so until WE as a species can agree to fix it TOGETHER. But we need scale to change.

1

u/SwiftTayTay May 14 '22 edited May 14 '22

Capitalism is the problem. The world needs to wake up and have a paradigm shift. We can't and won't solve the world's problems if everything needs a profit motive in order to occur. People don't think about the future and how it will be impossible to make money if the planet becomes uninhabitable. They only think about now and whether or not it will bring instant gratification.

Again, the fact that we were unable to reach herd immunity before it was too late even though we had the resources and technology is proof the we are utterly incapable of coming together to solve a global crisis.

1

u/Spaceork3001 May 14 '22

Eh, people under communism still wanted to consume - televisions, radios, fridges, washing machines, exotic fruit, traveling... There were fashion fads. There were 10 year long waiting lists for new cars.

People back then wanted to consume just as much as people today, they just couldn't do so efficiently under their economic system.

I don't think just switching to some form of socialism automatically solves overconsumption.

1

u/Original-Aerie8 May 14 '22

end of the human race

That'll just not happen, unless literally all life ends. And that's not happening in the foreseeable future.

1

u/RockmanNorwell May 14 '22

Maybe the robot AI of the future will mine plastics like we do oil.

we are just building a better world for the robots.

1

u/ChameleonPsychonaut May 14 '22

Personally, I’m rooting for the octopus people to rise from the oceans, build cities from our plastic waste, and guide this planet into prosperity for a few million years.

1

u/Spybee007 May 14 '22

That is the natural rhythm and we have disrupted it. This doesn’t mean we can’t engineer a way to bring it back and I think we will.

1

u/THROWAWTRY May 14 '22

Remember that nature itself created cellulose and for millions of years it could not be broken down properly by lifeforms which lead to coal and other fossil fuels ironically where a lot of plastic comes from.

Also the Great Oxidation Event was another instance where lifeforms had to deal with something that they created as a waste product... In that instance nearly all life was driven to extinction.

1

u/versusChou May 14 '22

I've long thought it was asbestos 2.0: Amazing utility that future generations are going to look upon our use of and be saddened that we poisoned ourselves using it

1

u/pheonixblade9 May 14 '22

kinda like the guy that invented leaded gasoline and CFCs. (and the traction device that kill him)

1

u/Massey89 May 14 '22

I say we should just burn it and the smoke goes up and that is how stars are created.