(NEXSTAR) – Minute bits of plastic permeate our environment – and can even be found inside our bodies – but a recent study found that the level of one type of microplastic found in the feces of infants is substantially higher than in adults.
The small pilot study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters compared the feces of ten adults and six infants in New York State.
New York University School of Medicine researchers found that one type of microplastic called PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, showed up in the poop of infants 10 times more than that of adults, based on body weight.
They also tested meconium, a newborn’s first poop, from three babies and controlled for any plastic from the diapers themselves. In all samples, the research team found at least one type of microplastic.
Scientists point out that infants are often surrounded by things made of plastic – sippy cups, bottles, pacifiers, blankets, and plastic food containers, for example – and love to put things in their mouths. Children that spend time crawling and lying on synthetic carpeting may also be inhaling the PET particles, according to Wired.
“Babies are exposed to high levels of plastics, something needs to be done,” Dr. Kurunthachalam Kannan, study co-author and NYU professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine, told The Verge. “Early life stages are very vulnerable.”
Microplastics are fragments of plastic smaller than 5 mm in length, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bits are often created as larger pieces of plastic break down, shedding the minuscule shards.
Other examples are microbeads, which are manufactured bits of plastic often used to exfoliate in soaps or hand sanitizers. Former President Obama banned microbeads in so-called “rinse-off cosmetics” in 2015.
According to Science Daily, recent studies have found that the tiniest pieces of plastic, previously thought to pass cleanly through the digestive tract, may be crossing into the circulatory system.
Another type of plastic, which contains the endocrine-disrupting chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to cancer.
It’s not yet clear what, if any, health ramifications there are for infants with higher levels of PET, and scientists say an exhaustive study is needed.
“Unfortunately, with the modern lifestyle, babies are exposed to so many different things for which we don’t know what kind of effect they can have later in their life,” Kannan told Wired.
To minimize infants’ consumption of microplastics, experts suggest that parents use nonplastic cookware to heat milk or formula and letting it cool before transferring it to a baby bottle. Wherever possible, avoid using plastic lunchboxes, plastic-wrapped food, and plastic food containers.