SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Baby formula powder sold in boxes contains a significant level of microplastics. 

Microplastics are thought to be harmful to humans, potentially causing intestinal inflammation, neurotoxicity and immune stress. Microplastics have also been found in table salt and beverages. 

“Milk powder is a substantial component of an infant’s diet. However, no investigations have been done to determine whether milk powder contains microplastic contamination,” said Qiji Zhang, a chemist at Nanjing University in China, who presented the research. He spoke to Advancing Earth and Space Science in an interview. “The task of understanding the threat to infants, one of the most vulnerable groups, is even more urgent.”

Scientists examined 13 varieties of baby formula powder to test for microplastics. They stored the formula in different types of containers to see whether it was the packaging that caused the contamination. 

They then simulated a baby’s stomach digestion and pancreatic enzymes to simulate intestinal digestion. This technique helped confirm the amount of plastic in the formula because once the organic matter dissolved, all that was left was the plastic. 

Microplastics were found in milk powder, and the boxed milk powder was found to have more plastic pollution than the canned formula. An analysis of the microplastics was able to determine that they most likely came from the inner packaging in the box. 

“There are strict cleaning and sterilization standards during milk powder processing,” Zhang said. “However, microplastic contamination has yet to be considered.”

However, babies who drink from plastic bottles are also getting microplastic contamination, Zhang said. Adding to that, it’s possible more microplastics could come from the preparer’s clothes or the air. 

“In other words, if caregivers choose glass feeding bottles and brew milk powder carefully to avoid microplastics from clothing and air, most of the microplastic exposure can be reduced,” Zhang said.