Reason Roundup

Banned Microplastics Pose No Risk to Human Health, Says World Health Organization

Plus: More on the 1619 Project, a chart shows how crazy U.S. military spending is, and more...


No evidence microplastics in water harm human health. As folks rush to stop everything from exfoliating soaps to plastic straws in the name of preventing water pollution, here's another reminder that they're following the ban-first-ask-questions-later model that's all too common among governments. According to a new study from the World Health Organization (WHO), "no data suggests overt health concerns associated with exposure to microplastic particles through drinking-water."

"Microplastics"—small pieces of plastic, generally defined as less than five millimeters long—can come from bigger pieces of plastic breaking down and also from the "microbeads" sometimes used in products like body wash and toothpaste.

The federal government banned microbead usage in cosmetics and toiletries back in 2015, and states have also passed their own bans. But "microbeads are not a recent problem," notes the National Ocean Service. "Plastic microbeads first appeared in personal care products about fifty years ago, with plastics increasingly replacing natural ingredients. As recently as 2012, this issue was still relatively unknown."

Now, the WHO review has found no evidence that these microplastics are a danger to human health, despite being "ubiquitous in the environment and…detected in marine water, wastewater, fresh water, food, air and drinking-water, both bottled and tap water." In analyzing 50 previous studies on the subject, WHO researchers determined that "microplastics greater than 150 μm are not likely to be absorbed in the human body and uptake of smaller particles is expected to be limited."

Furthermore, they found "a low health concern for human exposure to chemicals [in plastics] through ingestion of drinking-water, even in extreme exposure circumstances." As for "chemicals and microbial pathogens associated with microplastics" in water, "no reliable information suggests it is a concern."

As the WHO notes, this doesn't mean there are no environmental risks to overabundant plastic use. But the group cautions that "care must be taken…so that addressing one problem does not simply result in the creation of a new one." (See, for instance, the new, non-reusable paper straws McDonald's has employed to replace its recyclable plastic ones.) It adds that the "benefits of plastic must also be considered before introducing policies and initiatives. For example, single-use syringes play an important role in preventing infections. Priority management actions should be "no regrets," in that they confer multiple benefits and/or that they are cost-effective."


Damon Linker on The New York Times' 1619 Project:

For those who haven't been following along, this past weekend the paper devoted the entirety (just under 100 pages) of The New York Times Magazine, along with a separate stand-alone section of the Sunday paper, to a breathtakingly ambitious and ideologically radical undertaking—nothing less than the telling of the story of American history, perhaps for the very first time, "truthfully."

Inside, a note from NYTM editor Jake Silverstein informs his readers that it is wrong to trace the true origin of the United States to the founding of the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, or to the landing of the Puritans at Plymouth Rock in 1620, or to the publication of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Instead, the Times proposes to overturn such mythmaking in favor of an effort to "reframe American history," treating 1619 as "our nation's birth year."

Linker considers the Times project important, illuminating, and ambitious, but he takes issue with the "reframing American history" bit. "Achieving that goal has required the Times to treat history in a highly sensationalistic, reductionistic, and tendentious way, with the cumulative result resembling agitprop more than responsible journalism or scholarship," Linker writes, offering a critique of some of the specific pieces (including a nuanced read of a piece challenging views on slavery and capitalism).


A reminder how vastly the U.S. outpaces other countries on defense spending:

Or, as Cato's Julian Sanchez commented, "NATO doesn't make us blow $690 billion a year on welfare for Raytheon. That's pretty much on us."



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