While the exact impact on the baby’s health is unknown, scientists warn that particles may cause long-lasting damage to the fetus.

Researchers at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome and the Politecnico delle Marche, in Italy, have detected the presence of microplastics in human placentas, a scientific first.

Researchers collected six human placentas from consenting women and analysed them to evaluate the presence of microplastics. In total, 12 pigmented microplastic fragments were found in four out of the six placentas. Particles were found in all placental portions: maternal, fetal, and amniochorial membranes.

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“Cyborg” babies

Analysis of the fragments found that three fragments came from polypropylene, which is used for a variety of purposes, including textiles and furniture. For the other nine fragments, researchers were unable to identify the exact origin of the plastic. However, analysis of the pigments showed that the dye was the kind used for man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, plasters, and cosmetics and personal care products.

It’s like having a cyborg baby that is no longer composed only of human cells, but of a mixture of biological and inorganic entities

Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology, Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Rome

“The presence of plastic in the body disrupts the immune system and causes it to recognise non-organic elements as part of the body. It’s like having a cyborg baby that is no longer composed only of human cells, but of a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” said Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Fatebenefratelli hospital, who led the study. While scientists don’t know the exact consequences of placenta microplastics, they predict that the particles may stint the fetus’ growth.

The problem of plastic pollution

In the last century, the global production of plastics has reached 320 million tons per year, and over 40% is used as single-use packaging, the main cause of plastic waste.

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Plastic pollution is a huge problem not only because of its impact on marine ecosystems but also of the threat it poses to human health. Microplastics can get into human organisms in a variety of ways, for instance through the fish we consume. When the chemicals of microplastics enter the human body, they can have a range of consequences on human physiology, including reducing male fertility, increasing the risk of heart disease, impacting the immune system, and cancer.