QLE.20.020 – Fluffy but dangerous? The effects of microplastic fibers on our lungs

Route: Quality of the living environment

Cluster question: 089 How can we improve our understanding and treatment of pulmonary diseases?

We are continuously exposed to microplastic fibers originating from textiles in our homes. Textile workers exposed to high concentrations of microplastic fibers were found to develop interstitial lung disease, but the effects of common household exposure concentrations on our lungs are unknown. Moreover, recent studies have shown increased risk of developing asthma in areas with higher levels of particulate matter air pollution, but the contribution of microplastic fibers is unknown. Data on both exposure and hazard of microplastic fibers are sparse and therefore urgently needed to assess the health risk of microplastic fibers. In this project we aim to determine exposure and health effects of inhalable indoor microplastic fibers on the lung. We hypothesize airborne indoor microplastic fibers with or without an environmentally acquired coating can reach the respiratory tract and directly and/or indirectly (e.g. through immune cells) impair epithelial function, which can accelerate or aggravate development of inflammatory lung diseases. Both exposure and hazard characteristics of microplastic fibers will be assessed to address their health risk. To determine exposure characteristics, a novel detection method for microplastic fibers in the inhalable size range will be developed. To date no standard detection method for airborne or tissue-bound microplastic fibers exists. Hazard characteristics of microplastic fibers – coating will be investigated by exposing lung epithelial cells (organoid and air-liquid interface models) as well as macrophages and neutrophils. Using mice, we will address whether microplastic fibers penetrate lung tissue and are phagocytosed by alveolar macrophages and neutrophils in vivo. Finally, we will investigate whether this is different in inflamed lungs and whether microplastic fibers accelerate or aggravate lung inflammation in mice. Our results will provide important information about both the exposure and hazard of inhalable microplastic fibers and the contribution of these fibers as particulate matter air pollution to lung inflammation.


epithelial cells, immune cells, Indoor air pollution, lung inflammation, microplastic fibers, textile

Other organisations

Groningen Research Institute for Pharmacy & University, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG), TNO, Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen (UMCG)


Organisation University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU)
Name Dr. N. (Nienke) Vrisekoop
E-mail n.vrisekoop@umcutrecht.nl