Microplastics and human health research in the Netherlands – Symposium MOMENTUM

Micro- and nanoplastic particles (MNPs) can be found nearly everywhere; in the air we breathe, in food and in water. MNPs have accumulated in our environment and concentrations are expected to increase over the coming decades, due to the increased and continuous plastic production worldwide and the persistent nature of these particles.

Researchers have been worried about the potential harmful effects of micro- and nanoplastics in the environment for a long time. Most studies, however, have been focusing on the risks of these particles to marine life, while potential effects on human health have been studied less extensively. On the 4th of November the “Microplastics and human health research in the Netherlands – State of the Science” symposium was organized by the Microplastics and Human Health Consortium, MOMENTUM, to provide an overview of the most recent research results related to microplastics and human health.

MOMENTUM is a Dutch initiative designed to study human health effects of MNPs, and to propose solutions to minimize their dispersal and potential impact. The consortium is initiated after a call for proposals in the field of Microplastics and Health by ZonMw in 2018 and includes partners from academia, research organizations, government, and industry, comprising a wide range of expertise (e.g. toxicology, immunology, virology, analytical chemistry and environmental sciences). KWR is one of the participants in MOMENTUM and was also involved in the ZonMw project in 2018. From KWR Patrick Bäuerlein, Renske Hoondert and Milou Dingemans attended this online meeting. In the MOMENTUM consortium, KWR worked on the further development of methods to measure and identify MNPs in biological tissues.

The symposium was organized using the online platform Spatial Chat which allowed attendees and presenters to interact and engage with each other in multiple virtual rooms. The symposium provided a series of interesting and varied sessions on the results of fifteen breakthrough projects of ZonMw’s research program. By participating in the MOMENTUM study, KWR can contribute to the development of possible solutions to minimize the spread of MNPs. Results presented at the symposium and in the future by MOMENTUM may also be of great use in other microplastics-related projects in which KWR is involved, including Kennisimpuls Waterkwaliteit.

Current state of knowledge: relevant endpoints and knowledge gaps

Two years after initiation of the breakthrough projects of MOMENTUM, multiple methods have been developed to analyze and measure MNPs in various matrices including biological systems. Models and methods are designed to predict where in the human body these particles are absorbed and which immunological responses can be triggered. In a recent study to which  KWR contributed, a relation between microplastic size/concentrations and  microbial community composition and related antimicrobial resistance gene transfer was observed (See Although research conducted in the last two years helped researchers gaining a better understanding of the exposure of MNPs in the human body and its potential effects, it became clear that there are still many existing knowledge gaps regarding the human health effects of microplastics.

What’s next? Future plans to define health hazards and risks of MNPs

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion on the most urgent knowledge gaps and focused on research needs and potential future solutions. Within MOMENTUM, a risk assessment roadmap and a future research agenda on MNPs will be further developed. Due to advancing insight, early data on the actual exposure of humans to MNPs and human health hazards of MNPs appeared insufficiently reliable for risk assessment upon close examination. Therefore, more research on, for instance, the effects of chronic MNP exposure was suggested by the panel. An interesting suggestion was to factor in the copresence of other particles in environmental systems to place the potential impact of MNP in perspective. KWR will participate in several work packages. The main focus lies on the method development and measuring microplastics in samples.