30 Mar 2023 EVENT

Experts gather at Imptox workshop to discuss the emerging understanding of micro- and nanoplastics' impact on human health

On Friday, March 24th, 2023, the successful Imptox public workshop attracted a numerous audience discussing the potential health impacts of micro- and nanoplastics with experts from all over Europe.


The hybrid workshop took place at the Pyramide Event Hotel in Vienna with 91 participants registered online and dozens taking part in person. These figures highlight the significant interest in the subject matter and the urgent need for scientists and non-experts alike to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impact of micro- and nanoplastics on human health.

Imptox Coordinator, Tanja Cirkovic Velickovic from the University of Belgrade, welcomed the audience and opened the workshop, while Michelle Epstein, Imptox researcher from the Medical University of Vienna, moderated the event and led us through the afternoon. The workshop featured six speakers, each with unique insights and perspectives on the topic.

Ian Mudway (Imperial College London), the first presenter of the day, talked about the impact of plastic particles as a component of PM2.5 air pollution. He emphasized that “we do not breathe microplastics alone”, but rather inhale them in the context of a complicated biological and inorganic cloud of materials. To understand their impact on human health, it is fundamental to grasp how they fall into the general landscape of toxins and toxicants.

The next speaker, Hans-Peter Grossart from the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, presented on the concerning release of microplastics into freshwater via waste-water treatment plants. These microplastics may be charged with antibiotic-resistant genes, which could have serious consequences for human health.

Theo Vermeire, who recently retired from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, spoke about the difficult task of assessing the risk of micro- and nanoplastics for human health. He emphasized that more data and research will be needed before any definite conclusions can be drawn.

Thomas Meisel from the Montanuniversitaet Leoben urged the research community to focus on nanoplastics rather than microplastics, despite the challenges associated with detecting and analyzing them. Nanoplastics, due to their minuscule size, are more readily absorbed by organisms than their larger counterparts and are believed to have a greater ecological and health impact.

Verena Pichler and Lukas Kenner spoke about their involvement in the MicroOne project, which is a research initiative funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) that focuses on investigating the health effects of micro- and nanoplastics. Verena Pichler, a radiochemist from the University of Vienna, introduced the audience to the intricate process of imaging micro- and nanoplastics, as well as labelling them so that they can be tracked and filmed for observation. She highlighted that the labelling techniques depend on the type of observation researchers aim to achieve. For instance, if researchers are observing the effects of introducing MNPs in a single dose over a short period, the labelling technique used would differ from the one used to observe the effects of introducing small doses over a long period, as might be the case with chronic diseases.

During the last session of the afternoon, Lukas Kenner from the Medical University of Vienna posed the concerning question of whether micro- and nanoplastics could induce cancer formation. His animal in vivo data shows that only two hours after oral MNP intake, plastic particles were found in the brain and after ten days, they were found in the blood and in most organs while chronic intestinal inflammation and macrophages in intestinal tissue had increased.

The Imptox public workshop was the crowning end of two days of internal meetings of the Imptox consortium in which they reviewed their research progress and made plans for the coming year. Imptox would like to thank its workshop participants for the insightful questions and the stimulating discussions turning this event into a space of knowledge exchange and reflection.

Click here for the power-point presentation of each speaker:

Ian Mudway

Hans Peter Grossart

Theo Vermeire

Thomas Meisel

Verena Pichler

Lukas Kenner 


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