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How Does Plastic in the Ocean Impact the Food Chain?

Posted by Jane Patton | California, United States

We know that toxicants can and do leach from the single-use plastic that surrounds so much of our food and drinks these days. We also know that these and additional toxicants get into the oceans through runoff from rivers and waterways near petroleum extraction and processing facilities. Chelsea Rochman’s research demonstrates conclusively that large and small plastic pieces alike already in the ocean are attracting and absorbing these Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which are then found in the flesh of small fish (like plankton), as they mistake those tiny pieces of plastic for food and eat them.

So exactly how much are these POPs and other toxicants, absorbed into the microplastics eaten by our food’s food’s food, negatively affecting our diets directly? Scientists have known - and been warning us - for a long time that the mercury levels in canned tuna can be toxic to humans. But what is really going on with plastic, POPs, and our food chain? How do we follow this trail of chemicals on the surface of the plastic, into the plastic itself, and then into our aquatic food chain? What role do plastic microfibers from our washing machines play in perpetuating this system of absorption and consumption in the world’s ocean?

We propose the BOI invest heavily in expanding the research into how plastics in the ocean are absorbing POPs; how those toxic plastics are then being eaten by small fish; and how the POPs make their way into fish we eat, who are consuming the smaller fish.

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