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POLYRISK - Understanding human exposure and health hazard of micro- and nanoplastic contaminants in our environment

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - POLYRISK (POLYRISK - Understanding human exposure and health hazard of micro- and nanoplastic contaminants in our environment)

Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-09-30

POLYRISK addresses human health effects of Micro- and Nano-Plastics (MNP), being a potential economic and social concern. Governments are under public pressure to regulate Micro- and Nano-Plastics (MNP); at the same time industry cautions that excessive regulation would harm European prosperity. Policy makers facing this challenge currently lack the scientific evidence needed to inform decision-making. Science has so far produced neither sufficient regulatory-relevant data, nor mechanistic models, nor human population-level risk management tools for MNP.

POLYRISK aims to lay the foundation for a novel approach to Human Risk Assessment (HRA) for MNP, taking into account MNP’s complex composition. We combine methodologies for exposure and hazard assessment into an iterative, tiered approach according to principles of the Integrated Approach to Testing and Assessment (IATA) as recommended by OECD, ECHA, EFSA and the JRC. Within the IATA principles we have chosen priorities to rapidly deliver regulatory relevant new data for MNP risks of primary concern. To accomplish our aim POLYRISK is working on the following objectives:
Objective 1. Develop and apply innovative sampling, sample preparation and analytics to assess internal (human matrices) and external (abiotic) exposure to MNP
Objective 2. Develop and apply a human-based in vitro toolbox for testing epithelial transfer and immunotoxicity of MNP
Objective 3. Assess exposure and biological effects of MNP in real-life scenarios
Objective 4. Establish a risk assessment strategy and execute HRA for MNP
Objective 5. To manage data for current use in developing MNP risk assessment strategy and for future in silico predictions
Objective 6. Exchange and communicate information knowledge to our stakeholders
In the first period, chemico-physical analytics have been further optimized to determine MNP in environmental (airborne) and blood samples, needed for exposure and hazard assessment (WP1). A selection of MNP (PS (weathered or not), PE, PP and PET) has been tested in various human cell-based in vitro methods; methods that will fit in a tiered testing approach for hazard assessment of MNP (WP2).

Despite some delay due to the CoVID pandemic, POLYRISK has executed two of the five planned human scenario campaigns. These scenarios focus on exposure and effect assessment in specific situations where high exposures to MNP are expected, i.e: 1-traffic-related industry setting, 2-indoor soccer setting on artificial turf, 3-textile industry setting, 4-chemical industry and, 5-drinking water from plastic bottles (WP3).
Awaiting input from experimental work, POLYRISK has developed the first draft of the risk assessment framework for MNP (WP4). To support sustainable use of POLYRISK’s data in risk assessment standardized data storage options have been put in place (WP5), while communication and dissemination strategies for POLYRISK’s findings have been developed (WP6).
The first set of MNP (PP, PE and PET particles) have been produced by BAM and UU and weathered by ENEA and UU. A major challenge is to produce MNP with a suitable limited size range for in vitro testing (cell diameter of largest immune cells is around 15 µm) and to ensure remain in suspension sufficiently long to enable in vitro exposures.
Exposure and hazard data are instrumental to assess (human) health risks. The current state of the art is limited with regard to key technologies to assess exposure levels and hazards (toxic effects) of MNP. POLYRISK will develop and provide standard operating procedures (SOPs) to perform physico-chemical analyses of microplastics (above 100 nm) in airborne, blood and water samples. In particular for innovative analyses in complex matrices (e.g. blood) will have potential impact with regard to execution of future studies into health effects of MNP. A particular expertise of POLYRISK is the possibility to analyse MNP of nanosize (<50 nm, using). The technology applied (AFM-PIFM) will enable answering specific questions, but will not likely be implementable as quantitative technology.
The test strategy foreseen for hazard assessment for MNP will be a tiered one, and includes fit-for-purpose in vitro test methods, as much as possible using human cells. Such a strategy has been already proposed for toxicity testing of nanoparticles, but needs adaption for the case of MNP. A similar challenge is dosimetry of particles in cellular in vitro methods. Special for MNP is the complex chemistry, which combines MNP specific chemicals and leachates with adsorbed environmental (chemical and microbial pollutants). POLYRISK aims to offer innovative exposure technologies and provide new information on effects of weathering and aging of MNP. POLYRISK will focus on immunotoxicological effects MNP, in particular those that are inflammation-related. Selection of methods used is guided by the recently defined key events of inflammation. These methods will be used to test virgin as well as laboratory aged MNP and particles collected during the scenario studies. Together with exposure and health effect findings obtained in our unique and human-relevant scenario studies, POLYRISK will potentially provide unique data allowing direct in vitro to in vivo translation of MNP’s effects.

Selection of in vitro test methods of POLYRISK are centered around key event (KE) of inflammation, that have been recently defined as hubs of many inflammatory adverse outcomes (Villeneuve et al 2018). These KE include cellular activation, release of inflammatory mediators and recruitment of leukocytes. We will use methods to assess KE-related effects but also methods to assess in vitro exposure, in particular uptake of MNP by epithelial cells and leukocytes. With these methods we have already provided new insights (van den Berg et al) and expect to deliver additional mechanistic insights, e.g. with regard to relation between surface chemistry and cellular effects. This knowledge will be of strategic importance in safety-by-design R&D of new MNP.
Need for science based input for policy making and regulation.
POLYRISK will provide a state of the art risk assessment framework, that is adjusted to logically combine existing regulatory guidances for fibres, polymer of low concern, and particles. POLYRISK will thus potentially contribute to a innovative Integrated Approach to Testing and Assessment (IATA) and a novel human risk assessment framework for MNP. Such a IARA and HRA will impact on policy making and regulation.

Society is increasingly concerned about the overwhelming plastic worldwide environmental pollution. Knowledge on potential health effects of MNP on human health is barely available and highly needed. With its unique project approach, combining high-end physico-chemical analytical technologies, with tiered in vitro approaches to test MNP’s immunotoxicity and human exposure and effect studies, POLYRISK will be able provide required information to better substantiate existing concerns.

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