Environmental exposure to microplastics: An overview on possible human health effects

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Feb 1:702:134455. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134455. Epub 2019 Oct 4.


Microplastics are ubiquitous environmental contaminants leading to inevitable human exposure. Even so, little is known about the effects of microplastics in human health. Thus, in this work we review the evidence for potential negative effects of microplastics in the human body, focusing on pathways of exposure and toxicity. Exposure may occur by ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact due to the presence of microplastics in products, foodstuff and air. In all biological systems, microplastic exposure may cause particle toxicity, with oxidative stress, inflammatory lesions and increased uptake or translocation. The inability of the immune system to remove synthetic particles may lead to chronic inflammation and increase risk of neoplasia. Furthermore, microplastics may release their constituents, adsorbed contaminants and pathogenic organisms. Nonetheless, knowledge on microplastic toxicity is still limited and largely influenced by exposure concentration, particle properties, adsorbed contaminants, tissues involved and individual susceptibility, requiring further research.

Keywords: Human health risks; Marine litter; Microplastics; Nanoplastics; Toxicology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Microplastics*


  • Microplastics