Intended for healthcare professionals


Threat to human health from environmental plastics

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 25 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4334
  1. Stephanie L Wright, researcher,1 ,
  2. Frank J Kelly, professor1
  1. 1MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, Analytical and Environmental Sciences, King's College London, London SE1 9NH, UK
  1. Correspondence to: S L Wright stephanie.wright{at}

Time to pull our heads from the sand

Globally, an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been manufactured since mass production began in the 1950s. Eighty per cent of this astonishing mass has accumulated in land fill or the natural environment.1 Unsurprisingly, plastic litter receives substantial attention from both the research community and the media. When degrading, plastic products release microplastics—tiny (<5 mm) particles and fibres —which constitute an insidious contaminant of the marine environment.

More recently, their presence in dietary components and the air we breathe has been reported, prompting speculation about risks to public health.2 A solid evidence base characterising population exposure is lacking, however– including the concentrations of plastic fibres and particles in the environment along with their types and sizes.

Orb, a global journalistic multimedia outlet, recently published a high profile story entitled, “Invisibles: the plastic inside us.”13 Inspired by a lack of evidence on the contamination of drinking water by microplastics, Orb …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription