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Human Microplastics Exposure and Potential Health Risks to Target Organs by Different Routes: A Review

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Purpose of Review

Microplastics in the environment enter the human body through diet, drinking water, and air inhalation. The widespread detection of microplastics in several human tissues was conducted. However, limited knowledge exists on the number of microplastics that can be ingested by humans and the potential adverse effects on various organs. To address these issues, we reviewed the types and abundance of microplastics through different pathways and summarized the average annual intake in humans.

Recent Findings

An adult can ingest about (4.88–5.77) × 105 microplastics/year through the dietary route [including salt (5.00–7.00) × 103, fish (0.50–1.20)×104, fruits (4.48–4.62) × 105, and vegetables (2.96–9.55)×104]. The amount of microplastics ingested via drinking water route was approximately (0.22–1.2)×106 microplastics/year. Inhalation of microplastics via atmospheric environment was nearly (0.21–2.51) × 106 microplastics/year [including indoor (0.16–2.30) × 106 and outdoor (0.46–2.10)×105].


In conclusion, we found that the human body ingests microplastics most through inhalation, followed by drinking water and diet. We also summarized the types and abundance of microplastics that were enriched in different organs after microplastics entered the human body. Microplastics entering the body would cross the barrier into the target effector organs and cause adverse health effects, mainly including induction of intracellular oxidative stress, genotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and inflammatory responses. In conclusion, exposure to microplastics can cause many adverse effects on the health of the organism. Thus, an increased awareness of the crisis, urgent discussion, and practical actions are needed to mitigate microplastics contaminants in the environment.

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Data Availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank all the members in our lab for their great assistance with this study.


This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant numbers: 2022YFF1202900), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers: 31771100 and 32000815), and the key technologies R & D program of Tianjin (21JCZDJC00580).

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Under the supervision of Liqun Chen and Can Wang, Ziye Yang, Zhihong Feng, and Meixue Wang conducted article search, information analysis, and article writing. Ziqi Wang sorted out the information and wrote part of the content. Mingxia Lv cooperatively collected information and compiled some table contents. Jinghao Chang supplemented and revised the details of the article. All authors read and contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Liqun Chen or Can Wang.

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Yang, Z., Wang, M., Feng, Z. et al. Human Microplastics Exposure and Potential Health Risks to Target Organs by Different Routes: A Review. Curr Pollution Rep 9, 468–485 (2023).

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