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Microplastics: How secure are factory employees from invisible threats?

Microplastics: How secure are factory employees from invisible threats?

In a recent study published within the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers examine exposure to microplastics (MPs) in plastic factory personnel.

Study: Environmental Impacts of Microplastics and Nanoplastics: A Current Overview. Image Credit: Larina Marina / Shutterstock.com

The impact of MPs on the environment

Within the early Fifties, only about a number of tons of plastic products were manufactured annually. Over the past several a long time, the manufacturing of plastics has increased at an astronomical level to provide about 400 million tons of plastic annually.

Various environmental aspects including abrasion, photooxidation, and other biotic degradation pathways cause these plastic materials to degrade into MPs and nanoplastics (MNPs). Microplastics (MPs), that are tiny particles of plastic which can be five millimeters (mm) or smaller in diameter, often contaminate oceans, soil, and air. Surface wind circulation and surface water mixing contribute to the dispersion of MPs within the environment.

The minute size of MPs and MNPs increase the likelihood of their ingestion by quite a few species, including humans. MPs have the potential to disrupt cellular membranes and cause oxidative stress; nevertheless, these particles have also been shown to act as pollutant transport media for other toxic compounds akin to the commercial insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the common fungicide hexachlorobenzene.

The ever-present nature of MPs and their potential to cause harm to a wide selection of organisms illustrates the importance of identifying sources of exposure to MPs to grasp their associated risks.

Concerning the study

In the current study, researchers evaluate occupational exposure to MPs amongst employees in a plastic factory in Iran. Twenty employees from the jumbo bag sewing section of the factory were recruited. Individuals with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and people taking hourly leaves were excluded.

Participants were instructed to wash their face, mouth, hair, and hands with filtered water before and after leaving the workplace. These samples were prepared for MP extraction and filtration.

Filters were dried and transferred to Petri dishes for examining their physical and chemical properties. MPs were observed under a microscope, enumerated, and classified based on their shape, size, and color.

Polymer composition was identified using micro-Raman spectroscopy. The Shapiro-Wilk normality test was used to evaluate data normality. The Wilcoxon test compared the variety of MPs between dependent samples, whereas the Mann-Whitney U test compared differences between independent samples.

Study findings

Of the 20 participants, one female employee was excluded, leaving 10 male and nine female participants for evaluation. When the variety of MPs on participants’ faces was assessed before and after work, significant differences between females who used sunscreens and males with mustaches and beards were observed.

Moreover, significant differences within the variety of MPs were evident before and after shifts within the hair and hand samples of females who used scarves and gloves. The variety of MPs in all samples significantly differed after the work shift. Overall, there have been 1,739 MPs identified in samples before the work shift, which increased to three,063 MPs by the top of the day.

There was a big difference within the variety of MPs within the hair, hand, saliva, and face mask samples before and after the work shift. MPs were grouped into 4 categories including fiber, film, spherule, and fragment. Fiber MPs were the very best in frequency at 4,632, followed by spherules and fragments at 95 and 75, respectively.

A complete of 1,856 MPs were over 1,000 micrometers (μm) in size, whereas 1,478 particles were between 500-1000 μm, 1,020 particles were between 250-500 μm, 294 particles were between 100-250 μm, and 154 particles were lower than 100 μm in size.

After the work shift, MPs were larger in hand and hair samples, whereas MPs were smaller in saliva and facial skin samples presently. A complete of two,012 MPs were transparent/white, 1,184 were black, 1,146 were blue/green, 298 were red, and 162 were purple.

Forty MPs were chosen for spectroscopic evaluation. Of those, 34 were fibers made from polyester, polyamide, nylon, high-density polyethylene, polybutylene terephthalate, and polyethylene terephthalate. Six MPs were spherical or polyhedral in shape and consisted of polyethylene terephthalate.


The researchers identified 4,802 MP particles in numerous samples from factory personnel. Features like beard/mustache, clothing, and cosmetic product use influenced exposure to MPs.

Hair samples exhibited the very best concentration of MPs, which also significantly increased after work. Further research is required to research how these MPs impact human health.


  • Amobonye, A., Bhagwat, P., Raveendran, S., et al. (2021). Environmental Impacts of Microplastics and Nanoplastics: A Current Overview. Frontiers in Microbiology 12. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2021.768297.

Journal reference:

  • Shahsavaripour, M., Abbasi, S., Mirzaei, M., & Amiri, H. (2023). Human occupational exposure to microplastics: A cross-sectional study in a plastic products manufacturing plant. Science of The Total Environment. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163576


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