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New research group will conduct vital studies into harmful microplastics

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth are aiming to find ways to reduce the harmful effects of microplastics on our environment.

We know that the amount of microplastics being released into the environment is increasing, and scientists are trying to understand the effects of this on human health. The University of Portsmouth has established a new Microplastics Research Group, which hopes to make a positive impact with studies into this subject.

The majority of microplastics occur when larger pieces of plastic break down or are shed from man-made materials, creating smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. A microplastic is considered to be 5mm or smaller. Airborne microplastics are so miniscule that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, and humans breathe them in without realising. Microplastics are found in every region on Earth that researchers have sampled, even in the unpopulated areas like mountain ranges and in sea spray.

One of the first projects the group will carry out is with Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, which will investigate the presence of microplastics in the lungs of those with asthma and COPD. The group hopes that this will alert sufferers of these conditions to situations where there is a higher risk of microplastics getting into their lungs, such as recently hoovered or carpeted rooms.

Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader of Biogeochemisty and Environmental Pollution and Microplastics Research Group lead said:

“Our new research group will study the impact of microplastics in all environments — including soil, air, water and biota. It will also examine their secondary impacts on plant, animal and human health. Most importantly our research is focused on identifying solutions to limit the impact of microplastics.

“Aside from the environmental damage caused by plastics, there is growing concern about what inhaling and ingesting microplastics is doing to our bodies. We intend to conduct further research at the University of Portsmouth to discover more about how microplastics enter the human body and what their impact might be on our health.”

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