Healthy Me. Healthy Sea.

We have a right to know what plastic is doing to our bodies.

Healthy Me, Healthy Sea conducts world-first, world-changing investigations into how plastic affects human health.

By identifying, investigating and then communicating the health risks of plastics, we can drive a rapid change in how we make, use and dispose of them.

Plastic is everywhere - including our bodies

It’s in the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. We know it’s inside us, but we don’t know what this means for our health.

Research into this issue is chronically underfunded. However, the evidence we do have suggests we should be concerned. Studies have already shown that when plastic gets into our body, it can cause an inflammatory response, cross into placentas and accumulate in our organs.

We believe science can influence profound change, which is why we have two investigations into the health impacts of plastic.

1. Blood Type Plastic

Is there plastic in our blood?

We know plastic is getting into our bodies through our food, air and water. But what happens next? Can microplastics cross from our lungs and our gut into our bodies?

We're conducting a world-first investigation into the presence of plastic in our blood. We want to know which polymers are there and in what quantities. We want to know how they get there and who’s most at risk; if they’re making us sick, and in what ways. We want to know whether there’s a threshold to how much plastic our bodies can take.

Phase One

We started this investigation by convening 32 experts – academics, medical doctors, lawyers, environmental organisations and advocacy groups. We needed to find out if this research was worth doing.

Having reviewed the existing science, the group quickly reached a consensus that plastic pollution is a human health risk and identified three urgent research needs.

  1. Plastic is everywhere… but is it in us?
  2. Is there a link between presence of plastic and disease?
  3. If so, how do we raise the alarm?

Phase Two

With our initial research priorities clearly defined, we identified Vrije University in Amsterdam as the leading experts in this field. Together, we created a methodology to find out, for the first time ever, whether there’s plastic in our blood, how much of it there is, and which polymers are present.

With the methodology validated, we are now testing 30 blood samples from a representative range of volunteers. Once our team of scientists are confident in their results, they will publish the findings of their work in a peer-reviewed journal.

Phase Three

Although we are yet to announce the final results of our research, we have identified the key questions we need to answer in the next phase of research:

  1. How does plastic get into our blood?
  2. Does plastic within human blood enter other tissues?
  3. Does plastic in our bodies cause harm and at what level of exposure?*
  4. Do plastic particles absorb other toxins whilst in the body?

*#3 is our priority

Vrije Universiteit split 02

2. Pathogenic Plastics

Does plastic pollution contribute to the spread of disease?

New science suggests certain pathogens can hitchhike on plastic particles in the water.

This raises significant concerns about the spread of infectious diseases – both locally via rivers and streams, and globally via ocean currents. We need to find out more about the relationship between plastic waste and the transmission of human diseases.

As part of Clean Blue Alliance, we are already working with communities in East Java to design out diaper waste.

Now, we are working with scientists in Indonesia to collect samples from the Brantas River. Our team is analysing diaper waste, as well as other plastic and non-plastic waste, for the presence of human pathogens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Together with medical professionals and communities, we want to develop a powerful new narrative about how plastic pollution is affecting the health of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

“Microplastics spread easily via water and wind, resulting in a worldwide problem! We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles via our food, drink or through breathing. What this means for our health, however, cannot yet be properly assessed or estimated. There are strong indications of possible health risks, but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.”

Dick Vethaak
Professor Water Quality and Heath, Ecotoxicology

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