Seafood fans have a reason to pause over their next meal before digging in, thanks to ocean pollution.
In an unpublished comprehensive risk assessment, researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium found that those who consume seafood are also absorbing plastic into the bloodstream. The researchers said they believe Europeans consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic within their food each year.
Plastic fragments less than a millimeter wide can be found in mussels, oysters and other shellfish. Lead researcher Colin Janssen said the effects of the plastic are unknown.
“Now we’ve established that they do enter our body and can stay there for quite a while, we do need to know the fate of the plastics,” he said to Sky News. “Where do they go? Are they encapsulated by tissue and forgotten about by the body, or are they causing inflammation or doing other things? Are chemicals leaching out of these plastics and then causing toxicity? We don’t know and actually we do need to know.”
The studies said that while less than 60 pieces of plastic are most likely to be absorbed, the pieces stay in the body. The problem could only grow as the ocean becomes more polluted.
For example, mussels contain one plastic fragment on average within their body tissue. The rise of plastic pollution within the ocean could increase the amount of plastic within the mussels over time.
“The next generation or two generations might say they left us a rotten plastic legacy because now we are suffering in various ways from that legacy,” Janssen said. “We have to do something about it. We have to act now.”
The studies were shared exclusively with European news outlet Sky News as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue. The organization focuses on ocean health by looking into the factors that affect bodies of water.
The entertainment company claims to have taken its own steps to limiting the amount of plastic that enters the ocean by reducing its plastic waste production. Designing new and recycling old products are just a couple of steps taken by the company.
“Removing all single-use plastics is a significant step we are looking to take. We’ve made a good start by removing all plastic water bottles, plastic cups, straws, and our cutlery is made from corn-starch,” the ocean rescue website said. “This is just the beginning of the changes – we are up for the challenge and will do more, including looking at our supply chain and the products we make.”
The amount of plastic in our oceans will take so long to break down that some scientists think it will ever disappear completely. Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at Plymouth University in England, said he thinks the plastic problem needs to be addressed immediately.
“Hundreds of marine organisms encounter plastic at the sea surface or in the water column, and many of those encounters are harmful if not fatal,” Thompson said. “The scale has passed the critical point. There is enough evidence that we need to take action now.”
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.