Researchers Warn About Microwaving Plastic

Just three minutes in a microwave can unleash billions of nanoparticles, says study
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2023 2:20 PM CDT
Updated Aug 6, 2023 7:45 AM CDT
Researchers Warn About Microwaving Plastic
   (Getty Images / Jim Face)

A new study may give you pause before putting anything plastic in the microwave. University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers found that microwaving plastic baby food containers released both micro- and smaller nanoplastics, reports Wired. The study in Environmental Science & Technology was conducted by Kazi Albab Hussain and UN-L colleagues after Hussain, aware that plastic baby bottles leached particles into formula, decided to see just how much plastic was being released into microwaved baby food. Turns out it's enough to worry any new parent. His team found that heating baby food in a plastic container in the microwave released more than 4 million microplastic particles and more than 2 billion nanoplastic particles per square centimeter in three minutes.

"When we eat specific foods, we are generally informed or have an idea about their caloric content, sugar levels, other nutrients," Hussain says in a UNL press release. "I believe it's equally important that we are aware of the number of plastic particles present in our food." The health effects of all this are unclear, reports the Omaha World-Herald. But to help figure that out, the researchers exposed tissue from infant kidney cells to the plastic particles, and found that just 23% cells faced with a big dose of particles survived. Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator and the president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, says the EPA must get more aggressive on regulating such things.

"Even this one study should be a wake-up call—not just to new parents but to the FDA," she says. "They need to be far more proactive." As Wired explains, plastics are made up of polymers mixed with various chemicals to aid them in remaining in whatever shape they are molded into. The act of microwaving, through heat and deconstruction via hydrolysis—splitting molecules into smaller parts by the addition of water—creates small cracks, releasing microscopic plastic particles as well as chemicals that hold it together. (More science stories.)

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