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Commentary: Minimize exposure to microplastic

The following is a commentary for the Opinion page submitted by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Jeanne Johnson, Alexandria, MN, Citizens for a Sustainable Future

Way back in the 1960s, a popular movie depicted a young college grad played by Dustin Hoffman getting career advice from a portly businessman to “go into plastics — that’s the future.” And, boy, was it good advice! Plastic, a cheap and easily made derivative of petroleum was just what we needed to save the forests. Today we see plastic everywhere — from packaging to home building and as a major component of thousands of industrial products. Many of the new electric cars are a third plastic.

Plastic has made possible the commercialization of thousands of products we might not have had. We have all seen the result — yes, many useful products which make our lives easier or better. We have also seen the tragic effects on our oceans, animal and marine life, our despoiled beaches and rivers, the rotten piles in our landfills. And, plastic production spews pollutants.

There’s another downside to things made out of petroleum. They leak. Recent research has been aimed at finding out just how badly. Studies have found microplastics in everything from human blood to baby poop. Dutch scientist Dick Vethaak said it’s not known where these microplastics end up, whether they are excreted or absorbed in body organs — heart, lungs, kidneys. A more recent study revealed that human cells subjected to microplastic were weakened, thinned or killed.

Global industry is not going to give up plastic any time soon. But we can minimize the damage to human health and wellbeing. Since all living beings are composed of cells without which life is impossible, it is alarming to think how damaging microplastic could prove to be. Until we find proof that it’s safe to eat plastic, we should move swiftly on the personal and political fronts to minimize exposure.

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We can’t see microplastic particles, but they are everywhere. In the plastic food jars and containers on our grocery shelves, the cosmetics we wear, plastic water bottles, paint, dinnerware, our toothpaste, grocery bags and all the other single-use plastics that we’ve been taught to use. Look around and you will find them.

This is a problem which ultimately must find a political solution but in a polarized environment, action will be slow. In the meantime, do you want your children drinking microplastic? Get them a metal water bottle and fill it with tap water. Plastic teething ring? Plastic baby bottle? Out! Survey your grocer’s shelves critically and try to find food that’s packaged in glass or metal. Avoid plastic-wrapped vegetables. Make sure your schools and public services are not harboring plastic drink dispensers.

After you’ve taken timely action to reduce the risks to your family be a citizen representative. Google the legislators for your area and drop them a line. You can quote us.

Citizens for a Sustainable Future is a local organization which believes that working together we can create a more livable future.

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