Research highlight

Health: Assessing microplastics release from infant feeding bottles during preparation

Nature Food

October 20, 2020

Infant feeding bottles containing polypropylene may release microplastics during standard formula preparation, suggests a study published in Nature Food. These findings emphasize the necessity for further studies into the effects of microplastics on human health, which remain poorly understood.

Annual production of polypropylene accounts for 20% of non-fibre plastic production and it is the most widely used plastic in food preparation. However, little is known about microplastic release from these types of containers.

Jing Jing Wang and colleagues tested microplastic release in ten types of infant feeding bottles — representing the majority of the bottles found in the global online market —under World Health Organization-recommended sterilization and formula preparation conditions. The infant feeding bottles were either made of polypropylene or included polypropylene-based accessories. The authors found that microplastic release varied between 1.3 to 16.2 million particles among the bottles. The bottles continued to release microplastics over a 21-day test period, and microplastic release varied according to different factors, such as water temperature.

The authors then used these data to model the potential global exposure of infants to microplastics. They estimated that, on average, infants are exposed to 1.6 million microplastic particles per day during the first 12 months of life when fed using polypropylene-based bottles. They also found that the exposure modelling varied by region: infants in Africa and Asia have the lowest potential exposure, while infants in Oceania, North America and Europe have the highest potential exposure.

The authors conclude that infants may be exposed to higher levels of microplastics than previously thought. More research is needed to understand how plastics that come into contact with food release microplastics during everyday use. In an accompanying News & Views article, Philipp Schwabl writes: “The scale of microplastic exposure presented here may seem alarming, but the real-world effects on infant health require further investigation, as the impacts of micro- and nanoplastics on human health are still poorly understood.”

doi: 10.1038/s43016-020-00171-y

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