26 Mar 2024 EVENT

Multidisciplinary Insights and Discoveries at Successful Imptox Public Workshop in Zagreb

A large crowd of scientists and civil society got together on March 11th to discuss the potential impact of micro- and nanoplastics on health and the environment.


On March 11, 2024, the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb hosted the 4th Imptox public workshop titled “Micro- and Nanoplastics in Focus: Bridging Allergic Disease, Toxicology, and Environmental Concerns.” Despite Zagreb's rainy weather, the event welcomed 35 determined individuals in person, while simultaneously casting a wider net through online access that attracted 94 registrations from around the globe, all eager to explore the complexities of micro- and nanoplastics (MNPs).

The workshop provided a platform for timely discussions, revisiting the well-known but pressing issue that only about 9% of all plastics produced since the 1950s have been recycled. The rest predominantly ends up in landfills or disperses into the environment, gradually breaking down into MNPs. These particles pose intricate challenges as they integrate into ecosystems, with their full impact on human health still to be thoroughly understood.

Imptox Coordinator Tanja Ćirković Veličković from the University of Belgrade and Imptox scientist Mirjana Turkalj from the Srebrnjak Children's Hospital expertly led the Imptox workshop, which started at 9:00 AM and delivered key insights by its close at 12:30 PM.

The first part of the workshop, dedicated to questions particularly related to MNPs and allergic disease, started with Adnan Custovic's talk from the Imperial College London. He presented research about the protective nature of traditional farm environments against asthma and allergies, highlighting the beneficial effects of unprocessed cow’s milk and proximity to animal sheds. This led to conversations about MNPs and if (and how) these invisible particles might potentially alter these natural protective barriers.

Davor Plavec of the Strossmayer University of Osijek continued the narrative by focusing on the intersection of MNPs and pediatric asthma. Plavec emphasized the need for more research data to understand the respiratory health effects of MNPs, noting the challenge posed by the coexistence of MNPs with other airborne pollutants, which still needs to be understood.

The spotlight then turned to clinical studies concerning MNPs and allergic diseases in children, presented by Imptox scientist, Mirjana Turkalj from the Srebrnjak Children’s Hospital in Croatia. This portion of the workshop painted a vivid picture of their research efforts within three different Croatian regions, offering a comparative lens through which to view the broader issue (read our full story here).

Imptox researcher Sahar Kazemi from the Experimental Allergy Lab at the Medical University of Vienna, showed how mouse models can help us learn about the effects of MNPs on human health, pointing out what we've learned and what we still need to improve. She emphasized the importance of doing studies that reflect real-life conditions and using mouse models that closely mimic human diseases. Her presentation underscored how Ragweed pollen allergic asthma might be influenced by the type, size, and number of inhaled plastic particles. 

The workshop's depth further broadened in the second half of the morning, dealing with questions related to MNP toxicology. Theo Vermeire, recently retired from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of human health risk assessment concerning MNPs. Emphasizing a prudent approach, Vermeire's reminder that the lack of evidence of risk does not imply the absence of risk resonated deeply with the attendees.

Alberto Montivano from the Italian National Food Safety Committee detailed how MNPs can enter mammalian organisms, showing low absorption rates but potentially significant long-term accumulation, particularly for particles smaller than 1.5 microns. Mantovani highlighted the urgent need for more research on MNP toxicology to understand their full range of effects, establish tolerable intake levels, and assess the "Trojan Horse" effect of contaminants carried by plastics.

Mario Lovric, from the Institute of Anthropology in Zagreb, enriched the workshop with his presentation on the EDIAQI project, which keenly examines MNPs in the context of indoor air quality studies. He underscored the importance of identifying the origins of MNPs indoors, including textiles, paints, household and personal care products, and their interactions with various pollutants. This comprehensive approach emphasizes the need for a deeper understanding of MNPs' roles and impacts within our immediate environments.

Elsa Gadoin, Imptox researcher from Ghent University provided a concluding perspective with her research on the microbial colonization of microplastics in different marine ecosystems. The discovery of a diverse, potentially pathogenic "plastisphere" raised crucial questions about the broader ecological and health consequences of plastic pollution.

This rich tapestry of discussions at the Imptox workshop in Zagreb elucidated the multifaceted nature of MNPs, weaving together threads of toxicology, environmental science, and health research. Participants left armed with new insights and a further commitment to unravel the mysteries of micro- and nanoplastics. For further details, check our RESOURCES section for the downloadable presentations of speakers. 

While the public workshop wrapped up at 12:30 PM, the collective effort of the Imptox team continued. They proceeded with another day and a half of internal meetings, focusing on refining their plans and research objectives as the project transitions into its final year. Inspired by new questions raised during the workshop, these discussions aimed to ensure that the next steps are informed and directed by the insights and challenges brought to light, further enriching the project's path forward.

Imptox Coordinator, Prof. Tanja Ćirković Veličković welcomes participants to the 4th Imptox Public Workshop in Zagreb.