Scientists have found immune cells die three times more quickly than those that don’t come into contact with microplastics.
Some forms of accelerated cell death or damage can prompt an inflammatory response in the body.
Researchers from the University Medical Centre revealed their findings at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
The impact of microplastics – tiny particles of plastic commonly found in drinking water from the tap and bottled water – on human health is largely unknown.
The new study, led by Nienke Vrisekoop, showed the rate of cell death is thought to be far in excess of when immune cells encounter and engulf bacteria or other foreign bodies.
In the experiments, microplastics coated in blood plasma were placed in culture dishes alongside human immune cells under laboratory conditions.
Twenty percent of immune cells tested in culture dishes without microplastics died within 24 hours.
When immune cells came into contact with microplastics 60 percent of the cells died within the same time period.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their children will be profoundly worried about today’s findings.
“With plastic production set to quadruple in the next decades, we need to ask ourselves – is this risk worth it for the sake of convenience in our throwaway lifestyle or is this finally the proof needed to turn off the plastic tap?”
Last year, the World Health Organisation called for further research into the health risks posed by microplastics.
It said the limitations of current data mean it was difficult to gauge the potential impact on human health if concentrations of microplastic in drinking water continue to rise.