Environmental pollution with microplastics (MPs) is a major and worldwide concern. Involuntary exposure to MPs by ingestion or inhalation is unavoidable. The effects on human health are still under debate, while in animals, cellular MP translocation and subsequent deleterious effects were shown. First reports indicate a potential intrauterine exposure with MPs, yet readouts are prone to contamination.
Method: To establish a thorough protocol for the detection of MPs in human placenta and fetal meconium in a real-life clinical setting, a pilot study was set up to screen for MPs > 50 µm in placental tissue and meconium sampled during two cesarean sections for breech deliveries. After chemical digestion of non-plastic material, Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) microspectroscopy was used to analyze the presence of 10 common types of microplastic in placenta and stool samples.
Results: Human placenta and meconium samples were screened positive for polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and polyurethane, of which only the latter one was also detected as airborne fallout in the operating room-thus representing potential contamination.
Conclusion: We found MPs > 50 µm in placenta and meconium acquired from cesarean delivery. Critical evaluation of potential contamination sources is pivotal and may guide future clinical studies to improve the correct detection of MPs in organ tissue. Studies investigating nano-sized plastics in human tissue are warranted.
Keywords: fetus; microplastics; placenta; polystyrene; pregnancy.