A recent study conducted at the New Jersey Institute of Technology demonstrated that biofilms formed on microplastic surfaces can serve as reservoirs for pathogens and promote antibiotic resistance.
Researchers found microplastic particles in wastewater treatment facilities boosted the antibiotic resistance of measured pathogens by around 30 times. Plastic surfaces are relatively hydrophobic which can result in the formation of biofilms that allow pathogens to interact with antibiotics in the wastewater. When pathogens in the biofilms are able develop antibiotic resistance they can create a new challenge by sharing their resistance with other pathogens using antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). Increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics has been labeled a significant global threat which is now likely to be influenced by the prevalence of microplastics our wastewater.
Microplastics are either manufactured for products like toothpaste or handsoaps, and can also be found as debris from other plastic products. These plastic pollutants have been detected across the globe in many different environments and they present a unique public health challenge. Additionally, toxic chemicals are known to be attracted to plastic debris in the oceans which can then be released into organisms when they ingest plastics.
We currently don’t fully understand how low level chronic exposure to microplastics and the contaminants they may release has on the human body, but there is evidence that these particles can act as endocrine disruptors and cause significant harm.