New research shows that plastic waste creates a perfect breeding environment for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
The ubiquity of plastics, particularly microplastics, and their effects on human health make this an issue of pressing public health concern, both in the developing world and in the industrialized world. Microplastics have been shown to accumulate in the lungs, increase cancer risk, cause inflammation and oxidative stress, and adversely affect the immune system. The economic power of those responsible for this pollution, and their influence over Congress and agencies like the EPA, will make curbing this pollution a steep uphill battle.
As with many public health issues, the worse effects of plastic and microplastic pollution are felt by lower socio-economic communities. A new Washington Post article details how in Kenya, for example, mosquitoes carry illnesses that sicken half of the coastal population. Students in Kenya found that mosquitoes were breeding in nests of plastic trash around their homes. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down and is watertight, which is a perfect habitat for mosquitoes. Pathogenic bacteria are also known to make a home on microplastic particles, travelling thousands of miles across the ocean.
Recycling is only part of the solution. Less than 10 percent of plastic is recycled, partly because it is so cheap to produce new plastic.
There are several ways to reduce your exposure to plastics, though it will be impossible to eliminate your exposure completely. Cutting back our use of single-use plastics is crucial in the big picture to reduce plastics in the environment. Ten states have enacted state-wide plastic bag bans; more legislatures could be urged to follow suit. Other ways to address microplastics to protect our health include vacuuming regularly with HEPA filters to remove plastics from our living space. Some companies market air purifiers that purport to remove some microplastics from the air. Experts recommend drinking filtered tap water rather than bottled water, which tends to have far higher amounts of plastic contamination than tap water.
Read the full Washington Post article.