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Emerging environmental contaminants and human health : risk assessment of dietary exposure to microplastics

Ntanopoulos, Evangelos


Evangelos Ntanopoulos


Jeanette M. Rotchell


Microplastics (MPs) are an emerging contaminant ubiquitous in the environment. There is growing concern regarding potential human health effects. A major human exposure route is hypothesised to be the dietary pathway via ingestion of contaminated food. A risk assessment perspective was employed, which is the standard approach for human health protection regarding food safety. It is comprised of the four interconnected evidence-based steps of hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment and risk characterization. Existing scientific data were collected via the execution of scoping, systematic and rapid reviews, using state of the art, robust methodology. Quantitative meta- analysis and meta-regression analyses were also employed. Two bespoke novel risk-of-bias tools were developed and implemented in the execution of the reviews for the standardized quality appraisal of the studies.
Seventy-two studies were included in the systematic reviews on food contamination from three categories. The majority of the samples were contaminated in varying levels: 0-4889 MPs/L in drinking water, 0–10.5 MPs/g in seafood and 0–1674 MPs/kg in salt, thus establishing the dietary ingestion route for MP human exposures. According to the exposure assessment modelling, the estimated levels for MP dietary aggregate exposures could be as high as 3.6 million MPs per year.
Seventeen studies were included in a rapid review focusing on human cell in vitro MP toxicological effects. Four biological endpoints displayed MP-associated effects: cytotoxicity, immune response, oxidative stress and barrier attributes. Irregular shape was found to be the only MP characteristic predicting cell death, along with the duration of exposure and MP concentration (μg/mL). Minimum concentrations of 10 μg/mL (5– 200 μm), had an adverse effect on cell viability, and 20 μg/mL (0.4 μm) on cytokine release, effectively constituting thresholds of adverse effects. The preliminary comparison of the levels of the thresholds and the exposures reveals that human health could be at risk due to MP dietary exposures.
Further high-quality research using standardized methods is needed to cement the scientific evidence on MP contamination and human exposures. On the other hand, serious data gaps exist regarding toxicodynamics and toxicokinetics which are necessary for a complete toxicological profile.


Ntanopoulos, E. (2022). Emerging environmental contaminants and human health : risk assessment of dietary exposure to microplastics. (Thesis). Hull York Medical School, the University of Hull and the University of York. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publication Date Jan 1, 2022
Deposit Date Jun 22, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 24, 2023
Keywords Medicine
Public URL
Additional Information Hull York Medical School, The University of Hull and the University of York


Thesis (57.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2022 Ntanopoulos, Evangelos. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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