Micro- and nanoplastics – current state of knowledge with the focus on oral uptake and toxicity
The production and use of plastics has constantly increased over the last 30 years. Over one third of the plastics is used in disposables, which are discarded within three years of their production. Despite efforts towards recycling, a substantial volume of debris has accumulated in the environment and is slowly degraded to micro- and nanoplastics by weathering and aging. It has recently been discovered that these small particles can enter the food chain, as for example demonstrated by the detection of microplastic particles in honey, beer, salt, sea food and recently in mineral water. Human exposure has further been documented by the detection of plastic microparticles in human feces. Potential toxic consequences of oral exposure to small plastic particles are discussed. Due to lacking data concerning exposure, biodistribution and related effects, the risk assessment of micro- and nanoplastics is still not possible. This review focuses on the oral uptake of plastic and polymer micro- and nanoparticles. Oral exposure, particle fate, changes of particle properties during ingestion and gastrointestinal digestion, and uptake and transport at the intestinal epithelium are reviewed in detail. Moreover, the interaction with intestinal and liver cells and possibly resulting toxicity are highlighted.