February 2019: The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has released a report titled, ‘Plastic and Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet,’ exploring human health impacts of plastic. The report concludes that each stage of the plastic lifecycle poses significant risks to human health on a global scale.

The report addresses the lifecycle impacts of plastic on human health. According to the report, previous research has focused on specific moments in plastic lifecycle by identifying single products, processes or exposure pathways. Such an approach, the authors note, “fails to recognize that significant, complex, and intersecting human health impacts occur at every stage of the plastic life cycle: from wellhead to refinery, from store shelves to human bodies, and from waste management to ongoing exposure from air pollutants and environmental plastic.”

The report includes focused findings on extraction and transport, refining and manufacture, consumer use, plastic waste management and plastic in the environment.

Microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can lead to numerous health impacts.

On extraction and transport, the report identifies: the health impacts of air pollution and ground-level ozone; front line community impacts; the impacts on mental health and human rights; risks to children, infants and pregnant women; wastewater impacts on health; and health impacts of emissions from pipelines. The authors conclude that 99% of plastic comes from fossil fuels, noting that extraction of oil and gas, particularly hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, releases an array of toxic substances into the air and water in significant volumes.

On plastic in the environment, the report focuses on the impacts of ingesting plastic, inhaling microplastics and plastic in agricultural soils. The authors note that as plastic particles degrade, “new surface areas are exposed, allowing continued leaching of additives from the core to the surface of the particle in the environment and the human body.” The report warns that microplastics entering the human body through ingestion or inhalation can lead to numerous health impacts, including inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis and necrosis – all linked to negative health outcomes such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation, autoimmune conditions, neurodegenerative diseases and stroke.

The report concludes that plastic poses distinct risks to human health, arising from exposure to plastic particles themselves as well as associated chemicals and that, in order to make more informed decisions, addressing plastic risks requires a lifecycle approach.

The report is published in partnership with Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), International PoPs Elimination Network (IPEN), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) and UPSTREAM. [Publication: Plastic and Health: the Hidden Cost of a Plastic Planet] [Executive Summary] [Publication Landing Page]