Superfund Research Program

June 2023

Paper of the Month or Year

Environmental factors, such as ultraviolet (UV) light, can alter the chemistry of miniscule plastic fragments, potentially increasing their toxicity on lung cells, according to a University of New Mexico SRP Center study.

Using state-of-the-art spectroscopy techniques, the study showed that UV exposure affected the particle’s chemical structure and reactivity. UV-exposed microspheres caused more biological responses in lung cells than pristine microspheres. Notably, UC-exposed microspheres slowed how cells healed in response to wounds, altered cell metabolism, and increased the number of cells in earlier stages of growth and division — a biological marker that lung cancer could develop.

Understanding the influence of weathering, along with that of size, shape, and chemistry, across the lifespan of plastic products may be an important consideration for the types of plastics incorporated into products.

To learn more, see the NIEHS Environmental Factor newsletter.