The glass fibre, which is used in some consumer products and is now used in many products to prevent the breakdown of plastic bottles, has a high level of toxicity.
In a new study published in the scientific journal Toxicology Letters, researchers at the University of Sydney found that the level of plastic particulate matter in the glass fibre is more toxic than that found in food, paper and paperboard.
The paper has the title: ‘Glass fibre-based consumer products are more toxic to humans than their plastic alternatives’.
“Our results show that the polymers in glass fibre are highly toxic to mice and rats, and that they are also toxic to plants, invertebrates and animals,” Professor Peter Gartland, who led the research, said.
The researchers used toxicology tests to measure the levels of chemicals in glass fibres, and then compared them with the levels found in the environment.
“We used a method called an ion-exchange assay that was specifically designed to measure glass fibre concentrations,” Professor Gartwell said.
“It allowed us to directly compare our results with data from the environment.”
He said the researchers were surprised to find that the amount of plastic in glass was similar to the level found in plastic food packaging.
“Our findings indicate that glass fibre can be an important component of consumer products, particularly those made from plastic,” Professor Graeme Wilson, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the university, said in a press release.
“Glass fibres are highly durable, but there are concerns about their environmental impact, particularly if they are not properly treated.”
Glass fibre is also used in glass products to reduce their absorption by the digestive tract.
“The amount of toxic plastic particles found in glass can be more than the amount found in paper, plastic or glass paper,” Professor Wilson said.
This is in contrast to the amount in food packaging, which can contain many micro-particles of plastic.
Professor Wilson and his team hope to find out more about how glass fibreglass reacts to the environment in the future.
“A key question is whether it is safe for humans to ingest the glass fibrous products,” he said.
Professor Gland said he hoped the paper would encourage the development of new plastics to replace glass fibrels.
“I would like to see glass fibre as a more useful material in the plastics industry,” he told the ABC.
“If you can make glass fibrier, it will be much more sustainable.”
Professor Wilson says the paper is an important step towards developing a safer glass fibre.
“For some people it may seem like a strange choice of material, but we know that we can get plastics that are a lot more sustainable if we treat them with enzymes that break down plastic,” he added.