5 Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health Explained

Effects of plastic pollution on human health are; immunity impairment, infertility, cancer, neurologic and optical defects.

Plastic causes health problems by either degrading the environment, or by entering into the body through inhalation or other forms of ingestion. These health problems are discusses as follows;



1). Immunity Impairment (as one of the Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health)

Plastic pollution can lead to disruption and impairment of endocrine functions and the entire immune system of humans.

These problems are likely to arise when plastic materials enter into the body either by inhalation or oral ingestion of microplastics [7].

Microplastics themselves may form as a result of the breakdown of plastic waste, and may be airborne or may infiltrate water bodies and aquifers.

Symptomatic effects of immune disruption as a result of plastic pollution include severe inflammation and damage of internal organs [6], as well as increased susceptibility to illness.


2). Infertility

Plastics cause infertility by disrupting and deregulating hormonal processes that control reproduction in humans [4].

This can occur when microplastics enter into the body through air, food, water, or products that come in close contact with the skin and other body parts.

Some organic compounds in plastics such as phthalate and bisphenol A (BPA) can contaminate the hormonal make-up of the body, in such a manner that can reduce the rate and effectiveness of reproductive processes like sperm production and ovulation. These disruptions ultimately reduce fertility.


3). Cancer (as one of the Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health)

Cancer can be caused by plastic pollution through endocrine disruption [2].

The mechanism behind occurrence of cancer as a result of plastic pollution, is similar to that by which immunity impairment and infertility occur.

When microplastics (produced by the gradual biodegradation and disintegration of plastic waste) are introduced into the body, they may release chemical compounds like bisphenol A, which could cause hormonal imbalance.

This hormonal imbalance, if severe, can induce cancerous growth.

Parts of the body that are commonly affected include the lungs, which may come in contact with microplastic material through inhalation.


4). Neurologic Defects

Plastic pollution causes neurological defects through the release of Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) into the body.

These chemicals occur in micro and nano-plastics, whose ingestion causes them to be released into the body.

EDCs can affect the neurologic components of the body by disrupting hormonal equilibrium.

The risk of neurologic defects as a result of plastic pollution is high in children. These defects may occur during the developmental stage of children, before or after birth [5].

Studies have shown that chemical compounds from plastics can cause unfavorable changes in the white matter in the brain of children [3].

Plastic pollution can have psychochemical effects on adults as well, although this is less common.

Neurologic defects from plastic pollution occur significantly in urban and semi urban regions where the rate of plastic waste production is high. The risk also increases with lower rates of recycling and circular economic practice.

Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health: Neurologic Defects in Children (Credit: Jonathan McIntosh 2004 .CC BY 2.0.)
Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health: Neurologic Defects in Children (Credit: Jonathan McIntosh 2004 .CC BY 2.0.)


5). Optical Defects (as one of the Effects of Plastic Pollution on Human Health)

Plastic pollution can affect the eyes through contact with airborne microplastics or with byproducts of plastic incineration [1].

The optical problems resulting from plastic pollution include irritation and vision impairment.



Effects of plastic pollution on human health are;

1. Immunity Impairment

2. Infertility

3. Cancer

4. Neurologic Defects

5. Optical Defects



1). Alabi, O. A.; Ologbonjaye, K.; Awosolu, O.; Olufiropo, A. E. (2019). “Public and Environmental Health Effects of Plastic Wastes Disposal: A Review.” Available at: https://doi.org/10.23937/2572-4061.1510021. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

2). Caserta, D.; Marco, M. P.; Besharat, A. R.; Costanzi, F. (2022). “Endocrine Disruptors and Endometrial Cancer: Molecular Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Implications, a Systematic Review.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences 23(6):2956. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23062956. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

3). Daltry, A.; Merone, L.; Tait, P. (2021). “Plastic pollution: why is it a public health problem?” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 45(4). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.13149. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

4). Meeker, J. D.; Sathyanarayana, S., Swan, S. H. (2009). “Phthalates and other additives in plastics: Human exposure and associated health outcomes.” Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 364(1526):2097-113. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0268. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

5). Sripada, K.; Wierzbicka, A. Abass, K. M.; Grimalt, J. O.; Erbe, A.; Röllin, H.; Weihe, P.; Diaz, G. J.; Singh, R. R.; Visnes, T.; Rautio, A.; Odland, J. Ø.; Wagner, M. (2022). “A Children’s Health Perspective on Nano- and Microplastics.” Environmental Health Perspectives 130(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP9086. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

6). Veidis, E. M.; Labeaud, A. D.; Phillips, A. A.; Barry, M. (2021). “Tackling the Ubiquity of Plastic Waste for Human and Planetary Health.” The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene 106(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.21-0968. (Accessed 6 October 2022)

7). Wright, S.; Kelly, F. (2017). “Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue?” Environmental Science and Technology 51(12). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b00423. (Accessed 6 October 2022).

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