Plastic debris in oceans could contaminate fish supply

Plastic debris in oceans could contaminate fish supply

By Editorial Staff, Plastics Recycling Update

Dec. 19, 2013

The hotly debated topic of plastic marine debris — viewed by some as a wild exaggeration and by others as a major environmental health hazard — has been reignited yet again by a recent scientific study on the impact of plastics ingestion in fish.

After tracking the health effects of three separate diets on otherwise healthy fish, researchers at the University of California, Irvine discovered that plastic litter, when ingested at microscopic levels, can cause health issues for fish and for humans planning to have them for dinner.

One group of fish was fed basic fish food, another received a 10 percent "clean" plastic diet and a third group consumed a diet that included plastic that had been left in the San Diego Bay for three months, the study explains. While fish that consumed "clean" plastic showed "signs of stress," fish that consumed plastic from the San Diego Bay were seen to "suffer liver toxicity and pathology."

In comments to National Public Radio, researcher Chelsea Rochman explained that plastic "acts as a sponge" for pollutants, readily absorbing contaminants from the plastic and surrounding water, including heavy metals. When asked about the potential health hazard posed by the findings, Rochman reasoned that "a lot of people are eating seafood all the time, and fish are eating plastic all the time, so I think that's a problem."

While the study states that "small plastic debris is ubiquitous in the aquatic environment," many, including groups opposing plastic bag bans, argue that such assessments are not wholly accurate. For their part, the researchers behind the plastic ingestion study argue, "It is time to implement more extensive research that can result in effective policy and management including the invention of materials that are sustainable and safe for people, the environment and wildlife."

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