A study released in Nature Food reminds us that microplastics are everywhere in our world. The study examined microplastic release from polypropylene infant formula bottles. It was found that heating the bottle during preparation liberated microplastic particles. Some bottles can release up to 16.2 million microplastic particles per litre of formula. This staggering number was then used to determine the daily intake of microplastics in food for infants in different regions around the world. Australian infants were estimated to consume around 3 million microplastics from bottle prepared infant formula per day.
The researchers undertook a global online sales database search to determine the types and numbers of infant formula bottles most commonly purchased. It was discovered that polypropylene bottles were most prevalent. Other infant formula bottles include glass. The regional distribution of polypropylene bottles shows that many countries in central-south America and Africa use far more polypropylene bottles than countries like Australia.
The scientist undertaking the study stopped short of chemical composition analysis of the microplastic particles recovered from the infant feeding bottles, however, this would have provided further insights into the significance of this new work. Understanding the chemistry of the microplastics would help researchers to better understand what role, if any, ingestion of microplastics play on the overall health of infants. Infants can be highly susceptible to chemicals in their diet with their smaller body size resulting in the fast accumulation of these chemicals. Further research would is needed to answer this question.
It is important to note that while the results of this study are startling, and at times concerning, there is a long way to go before we fully understand the implications of this work. Parents should not be discouraged from using polypropylene infant formula bottles at this stage. If parents do have concerns then alternative options including glass are available.
Li et al. (2020). Microplastic release from the degradation of polypropylene feeding bottles during infant formula preparation. Nature Food. 10.1038/s43016-020-00171-y