Professor Jeanette Rotchell, of the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull, said: “It is becoming increasingly evident that global contamination of the marine environment by microplastic is impacting wildlife and its entry into the food chain is providing a pathway for the waste that we dispose of to be returned to us through our diet. This study provides further evidence of this route of exposure and we now need to understand the possible implications of digesting these very small levels. Continued research will hopefully drive effective human risk assessment.
“Chances are that these have no implications, but none the less, there is not enough data out there to say there is no risk. We still need to do the studies and show that is the case.
“There are currently regulation of some contaminants in food, in the long term, regulatory solutions to this problem will also be needed.”
Professor Rotchell says although microplastics have been found in samples collected, seafood is only one route of human exposure through our food as microplastics have also been found in other food sources and drinking water. Airborne plastics can also be inhaled.
Dr Alan Reynolds, Deputy Director, Experimental Techniques Centre, Brunel University London
"Blue Planet has rightly awoken the public to the devastating effects waste plastics are having on the marine environment. This paper highlights that the problems are close to home in finding that these same polluting microplastics are now coming back to us in the food in our supermarkets."
An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, with significant environmental cost. Plastics are being consumed by marine organisms that mistake the waste for food
Mussels feed by filtering seawater through their bodies, ingesting particles such as microplastics and other debris as well as their food.
Professor Rotchell says it is not just microplastics which need to come under the microscope.
Of the debris found in mussels, the study showed around 50 per cent was made up of microplastics and 37 per cent from other debris including textiles such as rayon and cotton.
She said: “All the conversation is about microplastics, but textiles could also be worth investigation.”
Previous research led by Dr Cath Waller at the University of Hull, along with colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey, has shown how the levels of microplastic particles accumulating in the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, are much worse than expected.
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