My blood tested positive for plastic. Now I want answers — and action.

Jo Royle

What does the shocking discovery that microplastics are in our blood mean for our bodies, our planet, and our future?

Image © Breslavtsev Oleg / Shutterstock

Jo Royle

Image © Breslavtsev Oleg / Shutterstock

About 18 months ago, I became one of the first people in the world to find out I have plastic in my blood. Almost 80% of the other people tested came back with the same result.

My nonprofit organization Common Seas commissioned this groundbreaking research. We announced our findings in March 2022, and it created a tidal wave of shock, outrage, and renewed resolve.

But why did we go looking for tiny plastic particles in human blood? What exactly did we discover? What does it mean for our bodies, our planet, and our future? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Omar Belattar

Before I founded Common Seas I worked out on the ocean for 13 years, visiting spectacular coastlines. Every year, I saw more and more plastic pollution building up and up on these shores.

Today, plastic has traveled to nature’s most remote and sacred places. But humans are part of nature, too. So I became curious — and concerned — about whether plastic was also traveling deep inside us, building up in our bodies just like on those once pristine coastlines.

I decided to investigate. A team of our staff at Common Seas and leading scientists at Vrije University in Amsterdam created the first ever methodology for detecting microplastics in human blood. My colleague Ben Jack and I were among the first people to have our blood tested.

The results meant we were on the verge of a groundbreaking discovery.

Our scientists examined blood samples from a further 22 donors and found that half contained PET, a plastic widely used in food and drink packaging and fibers for clothing. Over a third contained polystyrene, which is found in everything from single-use packaging to appliances, electronics, car parts, and children’s toys. And nearly a quarter contained polyethylene, commonly used to make plastic bags.

For now, we have tested blood samples for just five kinds of plastic — there are many more. Worryingly, some samples contained three different plastic types.

What all this tells us is that plastic has countless opportunities to get into our bodies.

It’s all around us, constantly breaking down into tiny pieces. We’re inhaling and ingesting it all the time. And the plastics industry is on track to ramp up production in the next 20 years — doubling the amount of plastic made and further increasing our exposure to it in our everyday lives.

Because this area of research is new and chronically underfunded, we don’t have a clear idea of what all this plastic is doing to our health. The early findings that do exist are concerning. We’ve learned that “persistent particles” (including microplastics) are impossible for the body to break down, and contribute to chronic illnesses like diabetes, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

We urgently need to fund more research so that we can answer important questions about the effects of plastic on our health.

How toxic is plastic? How much of it can our bodies cope with? At what concentrations? Which communities are most exposed and at risk?

Maybe because of all my years at sea, I feel such a strong connection between our bodies and our ocean. When one is polluted by plastic, so is the other. Our team at Common Seas is dedicated to stopping plastic from polluting our beautiful and precious ocean, as well as to understanding the impact on human health. We hope as many people as possible will support us in this mission.

The hard work of environmental organizations and pioneering businesses and governments has revealed we already have the technology and know-how to solve 80% of the plastics crisis.

The results of our initial study are not “good news”: no one wants to test positive for plastic. But as the reaction to our findings shows, knowing the truth will drive action — which means with the right approach, the right funding, and enough momentum, we can stop the flow of plastics into our ocean, our bodies, and our blood.

How you can help

  1. Sign the petition launched by Common Seas and Only One, calling on leaders to fund research on the impact of plastic in our blood.

  2. Start removing ocean-bound plastic today on Only One with a monthly membership. In just one month, you could free the ocean from pollution equal to 1,000 plastic bottles!

  3. Share this article with your family and friends to raise awareness of the biggest threats to our ocean today.

Contributors

Jo Royle

Founder & CEO, Common Seas

Jo Royle lives and breathes the ocean, with over 20 years’ experience spearheading global marine programs and sailing ventures. She focuses on identifying critical marine issues and aligning senior experts with engineering solutions to reduce human impact on the sea. A former transoceanic sailing and racing skipper who led expeditions to the Antarctic and Sundarbans and across the Atlantic, Jo founded Common Seas to “design out” plastic pollution. Career highlights include leading the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy project, securing the UK government’s commitment to the Blue Belt program, and successfully campaigning for the inclusion of ocean topics in the national curriculum. A fun fact about Jo is she grew up wanting to become the fastest person to sail around the world — but instead, she holds a world record for the slowest Pacific crossing, completed on a 60ft-long catamaran called The Plastiki she designed and made from reclaimed plastic bottles and other plastic waste.

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