Impact of artificial digestion on the sizes and shapes of microplastic particles.
AbstractCurrent analyses show a widespread occurrence of microplastic particles in food products and raise the question of potential risks to human health. Plastic particles are widely considered to be inert due to their low chemical reactivity and therefore supposed to pose, if at all only minor hazards. However, variable physicochemical conditions during the passage of the gastrointestinal tract gain strong importance, as they may affect particle characteristics. This study aims to analyze the impact of the gastrointestinal passage on the physicochemical particle characteristics of the five most produced and thus environmentally relevant plastic materials polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate and polystyrene. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and subsequent image analysis were employed to characterize microplastic particles. Our results demonstrate a high resistance of all plastic particles to the artificial digestive juices. The present results underline that the main stages of the human gastrointestinal tract do not decompose the particles. This allows a direct correlation between the physicochemical particle characteristics before and after digestion. Special attention must be paid to the adsorption of organic compounds like proteins, mucins and lipids on plastic particles since it could lead to misinterpretations of particle sizes and shapes.