Alarming new research suggests that, contrary to what scientists have long believed, tiny plastic particles consumed by fish and other seafood do not stay in the animals’ digestive tracts but rather seep into their flesh, as Liza Gross reports in FERN’s latest story, published with Mother Jones. And that means those plastic particles also seep into the diet of people who eat seafood.
Now, according to a study published in June in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, “seafood is the third largest contributor of chemical-laden “microplastics” of sources analyzed so far for the average American consumer, behind bottled water and air,” Gross writes. “‘Plastic is now part of our food system,’ says Kieran Cox, a marine ecologist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who led the study.”
As Gross explains: “Microplastics are bits of material that are smaller than 5 millimeters, the width of a pencil-top eraser. The vast majority of this debris comes from ‘single-use’ plastic products such as bottles, bottle caps, straws, and bags. The study estimates that Americans are eating, inhaling, and drinking at least 74,000 pieces of microplastic a year. But that’s a ‘drastic underestimate,’ Cox says, because no one has measured microplastic content in major food groups such as meat, dairy, and grains.
“It’s hard to say what consuming all this plastic means for human health. We don’t yet have standardized analytical measures to assess people’s exposures, says ecotoxicologist Jane Muncke, managing director of the independent Swiss charity Food Packaging Forum, who was not involved in the University of Victoria study. Such standards, along with biomonitoring studies to measure levels of microplastics in blood and urine, are critical to enforcing regulations designed to protect our health.”