Climate Change

New study finds children exposed to toxic microplastics

New research presented by the Plastic Health Channel has found that children are being exposed to toxic microplastics in outdoor areas and sporting facilities such as playgrounds and equestrian arenas.

The research has been led by investigative journalist Laura Hoogenraad, who found evidence of potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals and microplastics present in equestrian arenas.

Synthetic fibres from carpet waste found in equestrian arenas can shed tiny microplastics which when breathed in by humans, have been found to cause respiratory problems.

The research warns of the possible health risks for children and adults who are being exposed to the chemicals found in these microplastics on a daily basis. The results of the study have seen experts call for urgent action to assess the health implications of these microplastics when they enter the human body.

Commenting on her findings, Hoogenraad said: “The biggest problem here is that there is not enough research in this field, we do not know the true effects or dangers of using these fibres in equestrian grounds – but they are widely used anyway.”

The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK are the three biggest producers of carpet in Europe, producing 65 per cent of the total amount. Europe generates 1.6 million tonnes of carpet waste per year, but only 1-3 per cent is reused, due to its complex composition.

Carpets are often made of plastic and the majority contain dangerous chemical additives, with a study conducted by Zero Waste Europe finding that carpet waste can contain over 59 toxic chemicals.

This new research has found that on average, a single equestrian arena contains 2,400 kg of synthetic fibres, which can disperse tiny plastics into the environment that can become potentially inhaled by users.

Speaking on the Plastic Health Channel, Professor Majorie van Duursen, Head of Environment and Health at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said: “There are many ways that these chemicals can be harmful.

“Some of them can cause hormone disruption, others neurodevelopmental problems. Some are carcinogens or suspected carcinogens. Some can affect your immune system. We know especially young children are very susceptible and very vulnerable to these effects.”

Children in playgroundThe Plastic Health Channel also cited artificial playgrounds as a potential risk to children, as they can be exposed to harmful chemicals via crumb rubber particles.

There are an estimated 13,000 full size artificial pitches and playgrounds across the EU, which use crumb rubber made from recycled car tyres as fill material. One pitch or playground requires an estimated 20,000 car tyres to fill it.

As a result of these new findings, the Plastic Health Channel has called for Members of European Parliament to further assess the impact of plastic on human health.

Francisco Guerreiro, MEP for Portugal, told the channel: “More data is telling us that there is a lot of danger regarding plastics and their chemicals being disposed in the environment.

“We should have more independent analysis of this data so EU funding should also help drive more independent studies on the issue.”