Recent advances in research to identify sources of nano- and microplastics



Exposure to microplastics and nanoplastics — particles smaller than 5 millimeters and 1 micrometer across, respectively — have been linked to adverse health outcomes. Although some of their sources are well known, others haven’t been thoroughly vetted yet. Below are recent papers published in ACS journals that report new insights into the origins of some microscopic plastic pieces: laser-cut acrylic sheets, orthodontic rubber bands and children’s food containers. Reporters can request free access to these papers by emailing

“Characterization of Emissions from Carbon Dioxide Laser Cutting Acrylic Plastics”
ACS Chemical Health & Safety
June 22, 2023
In today’s era of online sellers and do-it-yourself crafters, small, carbon dioxide laser cutters have become popular tools to cut and engrave designs into acrylic sheets. By monitoring a real-world makerspace, researchers found that exhaust attachments efficiently captured volatile compounds that are released when a cut is made. However, once the cutter’s lid was opened to retrieve the final piece, nanometer-sized pieces of acrylic escaped slowly into nearby air. The researchers suggest that operators keep the ventilation system on for a few minutes after turning off the laser to reduce nanoparticle emissions.

“Investigating Microplastics and Nanoplastics Released from a Rubber Band Used for Orthodontic Treatment with Improved Raman Imaging Algorithms”
Environment & Health
June 21, 2023
Here, researchers observed that both new and used orthodontic rubber bands, which help braces correct misaligned teeth, could release microscopic particles when rinsed with water and ethanol. Using scanning electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy, they found that the particles contained the natural polymer latex and other additives. Based on tests of one brand of rubber bands, the authors estimate that the surface could flake off millions of latex-based microplastics into a user’s mouth each day, though they say that more research is needed to determine possible health effects.

“Assessing the Release of Microplastics and Nanoplastics from Plastic Containers and Reusable Food Pouches: Implications for Human Health”
Environmental Science & Technology
June 21, 2023
A small-scale study has shown that baby food packaging could expose infants and toddlers to nanoplastics and microplastics. Scientists simulated storing and heating watery foods in three commercial plastic containers. Microwave heating produced the highest amounts of particles — millions of microplastics and billions of nanoplastics were released from pieces of the containers slightly smaller than an adult’s thumbnail. Additionally, introducing high levels of the released particles to cultured kidney cells decreased their rate of survival, which the researchers say provides evidence of potential toxicity.


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