Estimation of the mass of microplastics ingested – A pivotal first step towards human health risk assessment

Kala Senathirajah, Simon Attwood, Geetika Bhagwat, Maddison Carbery, Scott Wilson, Thava Palanisami*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    311 Citations (Scopus)


    The ubiquitous presence of microplastics in the food web has been established. However, the mass of microplastics exposure to humans is not defined, impeding the human health risk assessment. Our objectives were to extract the data from the available evidence on the number and mass of microplastics from various sources, to determine the uncertainties in the existing data, to set future research directions, and derive a global average rate of microplastic ingestion to assist in the development of human health risk assessments and effective management and policy options. To enable the comparison of microplastics exposure across a range of sources, data extraction and standardization was coupled with the adoption of conservative assumptions. Following the analysis of data from fifty-nine publications, an average mass for individual microplastics in the 0–1 mm size range was calculated. Subsequently, we estimated that globally on average, humans may ingest 0.1–5 g of microplastics weekly through various exposure pathways. This was the first attempt to transform microplastic counts into a mass value relevant to human toxicology. The determination of an ingestion rate is fundamental to assess the human health risks of microplastic ingestion. These findings will contribute to future human health risk assessment frameworks.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number124004
    Pages (from-to)1-15
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
    Issue numberPart B
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021


    • Exposure pathways
    • Human health
    • Ingestion
    • Microplastics
    • Plastic pollution
    • Risk


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