New research has found that microwaving plastic food containers spews out toxic microplastics — and it's really freaked out the guy who's studying it.
In an interview with Wired about a new study out of the University of Nebraska — Lincoln, researcher Kazi Albab Hussain said that becoming a new dad inspired him to figure out what was going on with the containers his baby's food came in.
The results, which ultimately became a paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, are even more shocking than you'd expect.
"At that time, I was purchasing many baby foods," he told Wired, "and I was seeing that, even in baby foods, there are a lot of plastics."
When he went to study the containers under various conditions, Hussain said he was "terrified seeing the amount of microplastics under the microscope" — and that a whopping 75 percent of cultured kidney cells died after being exposed for 48 hours to the particulates from the microwaved baby food containers.
This newly-common knowledge wouldn't exactly have been surprising given the growing body of research into these ubiquitous bits of junk swimming around and inside of us, but Hussain's discovery — that microwaving plastic containers actually releases microplastics and their components, known as nanoplastics and toxic chemicals called leachates — is certainly jarring all the same.
Even more ominously, Houssain found that microwaving seems to release nanoplastics, which are like microplastics but even tinier.
That's not good news, because while our kidneys are able to filter out the bigger particles, they struggle with the much-smaller nanoplastics. That means they can slip through our cell membranes and, as John Boland, a chemistry professor at Trinity College Dublin told the magazine, "make their way to places they shouldn’t."
"Microplastics are like plastic roughage: They get in, and they get expelled," the Irish professor, who was not involved in the study, said. "But it’s quite likely that nanoplastics can be very toxic."
One potential solution, the study's authors note, would be to make plastics out of different polymers, but doing so would require a financial commitment to researching and developing those new compounds that, given how industries have handled other environmental and health issues, seems unlikely to be undertaken proactively.
All the same, the researcher whose new fatherhood inspired the study remains optimistic.
"I am hopeful that a day will come," Hussain said in the UNL press release, "when these products display labels that read 'microplastics-free' or 'nanoplastics-free.'"
And in the meantime, we will never, ever microwave a plastic container again.
More on waste: Scientists Say Recycling Has Backfired Spectacularly