You might think indoor air would be cleaner than outdoor air, but that’s not necessarily the case. Recent studies have shown that indoor air is often contaminated with a higher concentration of microplastic particles — the same microplastics found in both bottled and tap water.
How does plastic get into the air?
The introduction of plastic particles into the air happens on a smaller scale than the naked eye can see. Plastic becomes fragmented through friction, heat, and light, on a level invisible to our human eyes.
Use of a plastic body scrubber can send 100,000 microplastic beads into the air, according to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee. Though almost anything made of plastic is a likely source for plastic particles, the majority of airborne microplastic particles come from synthetic clothing and synthetic furniture textiles.
Although we’re used to hearing about the toxicity of plastic, the existence of plastic particles in the air has only recently become known and measured. Researchers aren’t sure what to do about this.
One company, Blueair, created an air filter that uses static electricity to charge the fine plastic particles and trap them in the filter. Static electricity isn’t a new discovery, but technology that uses it in an air filter is setting a standard for the future of the entire industry.
It’s likely just a matter of time before all air filter manufacturers will be producing similar filters for their existing systems. According to Consumer Reports, an air purifier with an energy star rating is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to filter the air in your home.
Still, even the best standalone air filter is only useful for a single room. It’s great to have an air filter unit in your bedroom or office, but you have to maintain clean HVAC filters for your central system conscientiously, and preferably using a filter with a high MERV rating.
Even though standard air filters aren’t electrostatically charged, they will trap a percentage of ambient microplastic particles.
Breathing in microplastic is harmful to human health
Plastic hasn’t been around long enough for researchers to have documented all the long-term effects of various kinds of exposure. It’s known that certain chemicals in plastic can disrupt hormones, mimic estrogen, and cause weight gain, though.
As an example, BPA is one such chemical. It’s used to make plastics more durable and was previously given to chickens and cows to fatten them up prior to slaughter.
BPA-free plastic isn’t necessarily safe. There are two additional toxic chemicals in plastic: polyvinylchloride and phthalates.
Polyvinylchloride is used in food packaging, plastic wrap, cosmetics, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, children’s toys, and inflatable toys. This chemical has been linked to cancer, birth defects, bronchitis, and liver dysfunction.
Phthalates such as DEHP and DINP are used in soft vinyl products, including clothing, paint, shoes, vinyl flooring, IV containers, surgical gloves, and other medical devices. These chemicals are linked to a host of problems including, but not limited to:
- Endocrine disruption
- Reproductive harm
- Hormone changes
- Decrease in sperm count
- Immune system impairment
Microplastics are a new threat to human health
Stephanie Wright, a researcher at the Centre for Environment and Health at King’s College London in the UK, has been studying microplastics in the air. “We’ve only recently recognized human exposure to microplastics through the air,” Wright told National Geographic.
Researchers theorize that the burning of fossil fuels may be contributing to the amount of microplastics in the air. The most significant problem is that microplastics are sticky, and tend to accumulate other particles prior to entering the human body.
Microplastics carry other pollutants into the body
Microplastics can carry toxins like mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into our bodies, including brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to have adverse effects on human health.
Static electricity: an old technology that is the future of clean air
Static electricity isn’t only useful for making your hair stand on end. As more research is conducted into the harmful effects of plastic in the air, air filtration companies will have no choice but to get on board making filters charged by static electricity.
It’s an old technology that will eventually make headlines and garner praise for preserving the air we breathe.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant.Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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