Eating fish is great for you, right? Don't you feel a certain sense of moral superiority and self-pride when you sit down at a restaurant and order the wild salmon instead of the steak frites?
Well, you might want to rethink that belief, because a study out of the University of Ghent in Belgium shows that people who eat seafood regularly ingest up to 11,000 pieces of plastics each year, and those tiny bits of plastic become embedded in their bodily tissues, remaining there for extended periods of time and possibly causing long-term health risks.
As the Church Lady would say, "Well, isn't that special?"
Degenerated large plastics and microplastics—tiny beads found in toiletries, cosmetics, and other products—are both a problem, and microbead bans aren't likely to solve the problem. The scientists found that most plastics that are consumed—in fact, up to 99 percent—pass through the body. But the 1 percent that remains in may be the cause of significant health problems.
There are five trillion pieces of microplastic in the world's oceans today, and things are not improving. Dr. Colin Janssen, the research head, said, "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. We have to do something about it."
Plastics are particularly difficult to filter out of ocean water. According to Michael Gross, a science writer at Oxford, these tiny bits of plastic that "escape the orderly processing of waste streams into recycling, combustion or landfill facilities [are] likely to end up in the oceans sooner or later." What's more, "Seabirds with stomachs full of plastic waste and turtles entangled in plastic bags have become symbols of the marine litter problem, but the impact at the smaller, less visible scale may be even more severe, and science is only just beginning to explore this problem."
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In their study, researchers from the Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology at Ghent University found plastic micro-particles in the tissue of mussels in the North Sea, a highly polluted body of water. "Per serving of mussels, which contains about 300 grams of mussel meat, you get 300 pieces of plastic inside your body," researchers write.
By the end of the century, seafood eaters could be consuming as many as 780,000 pieces of plastic a year, with 4,000 of those particles being absorbed by their digestive systems, they say.
Dr. Janssen told Sky News that a lot of questions remain. "Now we've established that they do enter our body and can stay there for quite a while, we do need to know 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."
You might want to know the answer to these questions before you dig in to your next seafood feast.