Evidence of a terrible new disease linked to plastic consumption in Australia

It’s a ubiquitous pollutant that ravages ecosystems, kills wildlife, and has even been found in human breast milk.

Now, ominous new studies have found that modern society’s addiction to plastic could also be fueling a horrifying new cancer-linked fibrotic disease called “plasticosis.”

The researchers made the connections in a new report in which they analyzed NSW seabirds that died with macroplastic (larger fragments) and microplastic inside them.

For more health and wellbeing news and videos, visit Health and Wellbeing >>

It turned out that the birds had developed fibrosis – the thickening and scarring of tissue – that infiltrated the inner lining of their organs and destroyed their glands.

Fibrotic diseases are not uncommon in the human body – asbestosis and silicosis are both pulmonary fibrosis caused by inhaling asbestos and silica – and the report’s findings suggest that this new inflammatory disease discovered in seabirds is having similarly devastating effects on humans could have.

One of the authors of the Adrift Lab study, scientist and researcher Dr. Jack Rivers-Auty, from the University of Tasmania, has a background in human biology, so he’s always wondering how his faunal findings might be related to human pathology.

One of his earlier studies found that fibrosis formed around microplastics “in the spleen, kidney and liver of these animals,” he told 7NEWS.com.au. “Certainly, similar processes could now be taking place in the human body,” he added.

The ominous study

The impact of the rising tide of plastic on ocean ecosystems is already well established – the substance is already believed to be affecting 1,200 marine species.

But the Adrift Lab report, published last week in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, collected 21 flesh-footed shearwater pups, between the ages of 80 and 90 days, who were “freshly deceased” from Lord Howe Island back in 2021 — yielding alarming new discoveries .

It found devastating scars in the birds’ stomachs that didn’t match anything else they had ingested.

Magnified images of flesh-footed shearwater stomachs show collagen formation (blue) and tissue damage. Credit: Journal of Hazardous Materials

The image above shows a progression of scar tissue in the bird’s stomach affecting the bacteria-fighting glands and stomach acid, which are essential for fighting off bacteria and absorbing nutrients.

The blue parts of the image are collagen – a key component of fibrosis – stimulated by the plastic irritation inflicted on the birds inside. As rigid scar tissue replaces soft tissue, it limits the stomach’s ability to expand with food.

The danger to humans

Fibrosis “can contribute to organ failure in severe cases and is also a symptom of many chronic autoimmune diseases,” the study states.

It’s also “a hallmark of cancer,” according to an independent study that reports that up to 20 percent of human cancers are linked to chronic inflammation.

“I think the most dangerous place in the human body would be the lungs… there have been a few studies, including an Australian one, showing that 40 percent of house dust is plastic and that means we breathe it in,” Rivers-Auty said.

A 2022 study published in Science Of The Total Environment reports that microplastics are already in the atmosphere, our food and our drinking water.

It also tested 13 different human lungs and found 39 microplastics in all areas of 11 of them.

The potentially fatal effects of fibrotic diseases such as asbestosis or silicosis are already well recognized.

“The scarring of the lung tissue makes it so difficult to breathe that the asbestosis victim can suffocate. This lung disease also puts a strain on other bodily functions and can lead to organ failure or cardiac arrest in a patient,” said Mesothelioma Hope.

“A Canary in the Coal Mine”

The juvenile shearwater is one of the species most exposed to plastics due to its superficial eating habits and has been chosen “as a canary in the coal mine” to foretell a potentially bleak future for other wildlife should this pollution continue to worsen.

“What would be the worst-case scenario if plastic continued to be dumped into the ocean and all wildlife ended up with the same amounts of plastic that these birds are exposed to,” Rivers-Auty said.

About 90 per cent of the sampled juvenile flesh-footed shearwaters contained at least one piece of plastic, with some as much as 10 per cent of their body weight in plastic, he told 7NEWS.com.au.

“A few birds had up to 203 heads in the samples we took this year,” he said.

Flesh-footed juvenile flesh-footed shearwaters that recently died were collected from Lord Howe Island for the study, which found that 90 percent contained plastic. Credit: Southern Lightscapes Australia/Getty Images
Some birds in the study sample contained 10 percent of their body weight in plastic, but even tiny traces can lead to fibrosis. Credit: dr Alex Bond/Twitter

But the Adrift Lab team, including Adrift Lab researcher Hayley Charlton-Howard and conservation biologist Dr. Alexander Bond, found that even two or three pieces of plastic could trigger plastosis.

“And indeed, humans are exposed to this amount of plastic, so it’s very concerning what pathology might be happening in humans as well,” Rivers-Auty said.

The use of wild bird samples contrasts the results of this study with existing research on the subject, which has been largely conducted in laboratories and has found plastic consumption-related fibrosis in rodents affecting the ovaries, uterus, heart and liver.

The problem with experiments using sterile plastics and captive-bred laboratory rats is that they may not provide a complete picture of the problem at hand, as plastics found in polluted environments also harbor bacteria and parasites.

Plastic has entered the bloodstream

The structural makeup of plastics made from crude oil is similar in nature to the oily compounds called lipids that make up the human membrane.

Because of these similarities, microplastics have the ability to pass through human and animal membranes. This means that once plastics are ingested and broken down through processes like digestion, they can be transported through the body via the bloodstream to infiltrate its major organs.

This gives microscopic plastics the ability to damage tissues and intracellular structures, even crossing both the blood-brain barrier and the placenta.

An accumulation of macroplastics was found inside the birds, which is also internally ground into microplastic particles. Credit: dr Alex Bond/Twitter

The study showed that larger pieces of macroplastics ingested by birds can cause punctures or tears, which the body then tries to heal with fibrosis to prevent internal leakage. But the amount of overall damage also suggested something inherently flammable about the plastic itself.

“It’s not just that (the plastic) was prickly,” Rivers-Auty said. “There is something chemically unique about plastics and the damage they can cause. We don’t know what that is, but I suspect it has something to do with it being oily.”

It was not clear in the study whether the fibrosis was caused by the macroplastic or the microplastic.

But if the levels of plasticity found in the young shearwaters can be caused by microplastics, it could mean serious future health problems are looming for humans — symptoms of asbestosis, for example, can appear 10 to 50 years after initial exposure, Mesothelioma Hope reports.

“Against this background, it is crucial to better understand the effects of plastic on biota so that we can also better understand how our own tissues react to this pollutant,” says the Adrift Lab report.

Dog jumps into the water to take on a hammerhead shark.

Dog jumps into the water to take on a hammerhead shark.

https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/health-wellbeing/evidence-for-horrifying-new-disease-linked-to-plastic-consumption-in-australia-c-9958565 Evidence of a terrible new disease linked to plastic consumption in Australia

James Brien

James Brien is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. James Brien joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: jamesbrien@24ssports.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button