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Newly Emerging Airborne Pollutants: Current Knowledge Of Health Impact Of Micro And Nanoplastics

Alessio Facciolà, Giuseppa Visalli, Marianna Pruiti Ciarello, Angela Di Pietro

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Plastics are ubiquitous persistent pollutants, forming the most representative material of the Anthropocene. In the environment, they undergo wear and tear (i.e., mechanical fragmentation, and slow photo and thermo-oxidative degradation) forming secondary microplastics (MPs). Further fragmentation of primary and secondary MPs results in nanoplastics (NPs). To assess potential health damage due to human exposure to airborne MPs and NPs, we summarize the evidence collected to date that, however, has almost completely focused on monitoring and the effects of airborne MPs. Only in vivo and in vitro studies have assessed the toxicity of NPs, and a standardized method for their analysis in environmental matrices is still missing. The main sources of indoor and outdoor exposure to these pollutants include synthetic textile fibers, rubber tires, upholstery and household furniture, and landfills. Although both MPs and NPs can reach the alveolar surface, the latter can pass into the bloodstream, overcoming the pulmonary epithelial barrier. Despite the low reactivity, the number of surface area atoms per unit mass is high in MPs and NPs, greatly enhancing the surface area for chemical reactions with bodily fluids and tissue in direct contact. This is proven in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and flock workers, who are prone to persistent inflammatory stimulation, leading to pulmonary fibrosis or even carcinogenesis.