Another day, another claim about graphene oxide.
We came across this message on a Singapore-based Telegram group where anti-vaccination discourse frequently occurs:
The author of the message shares a link to an article on The Straits Times which reports on a study where microplastics were found in human blood for the first time.
Along with the link, the author writes “Hint: Could be graphene oxide?”.
If you recall, graphene oxide is particularly popular among anti-vaccination narratives, with claims of it being present in vaccines (they are not) and even Nurofen painkiller tablets (again, they are not) being circulated recently.
Given the context of where the message was shared and the enduring claims of graphene oxide being present in vaccines, let’s explore and see if the author’s hypothesis might hold any ounce of truth.
What does the article actually say?
For context, the article shared was published on The Straits Times on 25 March, and appears to be syndicated from Bloomberg. Reports on the same study also appeared on The Guardian, South China Morning Post and USA Today, among others.
The study was funded by the Dutch National Organisation for Health Research and Development and Common Seas, a group working to cut plastic pollution and was published in the journal Environment International on 24 March.
The scientists found that 17 out of the 22 healthy people they took samples from had “quantifiable amounts of plastic particles in their blood”, but noted that further studies are needed to determine the health risks of the materials. In an interview with USA Today, one of the authors of the study, Dick Vethaak, professor of ecotoxicology, water quality and health at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Hague, the Netherlands added: “We have to find out where are these particles traveling. Do they accumulate in certain organs? […] Are (accumulations) sufficiently high enough to trigger responses leading to diseases?”
According to the study, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene and polymers of styrene (polystyrene) were the most widely encountered in the samples.
PET is commonly used in the making of drink bottles, fabrics, and food packaging. Polyethylene is used in the production of plastic wraps, trash bags, wire insulation, squeeze bottles, toys, and housewares. Polystyrene (more commonly known as styrofoam) is used both at home and in the food service industry as containers, cups, plates, bowls, and so on.
The threat of microplastics to humans isn’t completely new either. In August 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) had called for further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health, following the release of an analysis of current research related to microplastics in drinking water.
More importantly, graphene oxide is not a plastic, but a compound containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, formed through the oxidation of graphene.
Therefore, the claim is false on two fronts: first, that graphene oxide has resulted in microplastics being found in human blood; second, that this is due to graphene oxide being present in COVID-19 vaccines.