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As an ordinary person without a science background, I did a bit of research into if microplastics are harmful. I've found 9 articles, and I've summarised my findings in my own words:

Microplastics are ubiquitous, but we don’t know much about their harm. We know they can be carriers of harmful chemicals that remain on the plastic, including carcinogenic chemicals. They can be microscopic and nanoscopic in scale, potentially entering cells on an atomic level. They are easily carried across food chains, persist in our environment, and will never biodegrade and only get smaller and smaller. If large enough, they can be ingested like bigger plastics and cause harm to organisms, in particular to marine life.

Some of the articles I read to produce this summary: Ref1, Ref2, Ref3, Ref4, Ref5, Ref6.

If this is correct, I think the problem is not microplastics, but the chemicals on them. As long as microplastics are small enough to not cause any physical damage (suffocation, entanglement, laceration, internal injuries, usually caused by larger plastics), we can let them continue to break into smaller pieces without harm. Do you agree? Do you think there are much more harmful effects yet to be discovered?

NOTE: In the back of my mind, I am thinking about synthetic clothing / textiles. If my suggestion is correct, then synthetic clothing is potentially harmless as long as they are not treated with harmful chemicals – we do no need to worry about the shedding of microplastics.

NOTE: Apologies, I know there are many types of plastics out there. This is something I know little about. Please feel free to say more on this.

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  • $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic here. It may fit on a medical or biology site. To my knowledge, microplastics have been found in various bodily fluids of both humans and animals, so potential consequences could include damage to the circulatory and reproductive systems, by both mechanical and chemical processes. Re "Do you agree? Do you think there are much more harmful effects yet to be discovered?" This seems to invite opinions and speculation, while this site is focused on factual data. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Feb 22, 2023 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ To me two of your statements contradict each other: "As long as microplastics are small enough to not cause any physical damage..." & "They can be microscopic and nanoscopic in scale, potentially entering cells on an atomic level". Do you think microparticles of plastic entering cells will leave them undamaged? $\endgroup$ Feb 22, 2023 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ @gerrit Looking for further clarification: If I were to write an answer stating that microplastics are harmful by themselves, citing the following papers, that would be acceptable? Stefania D’Angelo and Rosaria Meccariello, "Microplastics: A Threat for Male Fertility". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 18, No. 5, March 2021, p. 2392. Hayal Çobanoğlu, et al., "Genotoxic and cytotoxic effects of polyethylene microplastics on human peripheral blood lymphocytes". Chemosphere, Vol. 272, June 2021, 129805. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Feb 22, 2023 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ @njuffa Maybe. I'm not sure. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Feb 22, 2023 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to asking how harmful microplastics are, it could also be asked how beneficial they are. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Feb 22, 2023 at 12:46

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