Can marine plastic pollution end up on our dinner plate?

Can marine plastic pollution end up on our dinner plate?

February 3, 2015

February 3, 2015

When you hear the phrase, 'What's for dinner?,' the furthest answer from anyone's mind would be toxic plastics. Yet investigators are researching whether consumption of plastic debris by marine organisms translates back into our food chain as toxic exposures for people who eat seafood.
 
In a feature article in the NIEHS' flagship publication, Environmental Health Perspectives, Nate Seltenrich examined the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean, tracing the path from plastic pollution, to bioaccumulation in fish that mistake the plastics for food, to potential human exposure from consumption of seafood. 
 
Viewpoints on the human health risks of marine debris are nearly as complex as the underlying science, as was evident at an inaugural EPA and NAS symposium on the topic held in Washington, DC, in April 2014.Staff from the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are currently developing a risk assessment to quantify the chemical loading effects of plastic litter on marine life. And by 2016, the EPA plans to launch a similar long-term inquiry into effects on human health, including an evaluation of outcomes such as fetal formation.
 
The article continues: "Government, academic, and independent sources interviewed for this article almost unanimously expressed a mix of skepticism and concern toward the thought of ocean plastics posing a human health risk. Without exception, they also advocated for further research. A common viewpoint is that although definitive evidence does not yet exist for real-world human health impacts tied to marine plastic debris, this doesn’t prove the hypothesis null, nor does it mean there aren’t other valid reasons to address the long-lived plastic litter that washes into the world’s oceans every year."
 
Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, advocates for another solution: manufacturing more sustainable plastics from the start.
 
“We need to design the next generation of plastics to make them more biodegradable so that they don’t have a long half-life, they don’t accumulate in the oceans, and they don’t have the opportunity to collect chemicals long-term,” he says. “There’s just no way we can shield people from all exposures that could occur. Let’s design safer chemicals and make the whole problem moot.”

 

Written by: Joe Caspermeyer