The word microplastics has suddenly become fashionable, known and discussed in circles beyond the environmentally conscious. Reports of traces of microplastics even in the remote, and apparently pristine, atmosphere of the polar regions, may have had something to do with the topic going viral recently.
Environmental activists have been warning about its presence for a decade or more. In fact, our oceans are choking with hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic products that we release each year. The Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, has reported that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam dump more plastic in the sea than all other countries combined. No country, however, goes completely scot-free as far as soiling our oceans with plastic waste.
Over a period of time, this plastic, due to the actions of nature, sunlight, tides, degradation and action by microorganisms, break down into extremely tiny particles which then is termed as microplastics. Many sea salt producers are becoming increasingly concerned about the higher concentrations of microplastics they find in their market-ready products.
What’s At Most Risk?
It’s not just our oceans that are under attack. Airborne microplastics have been detected even in air both indoors and outdoors. Wikipedia mentions a study that found unacceptable levels of microplastics in the city of Tehran in Iran. If it’s true of one city, then it must be true for thousands of others.
Microplastics have also crept into our fresh water and soil systems. Modern societies generate huge amount of waste, and plastics today is among the top culprits that while refusing to decompose fully, has the potential to harm the environment for a long time to come.
Naturally, with such a vast and persistent presence of microplastics, some of the critical elements for human survival is also getting polluted. To quote from Wikipedia again, “In one study, 93% of the bottled water from 11 different brands showed microplastic contamination. Per liter, researchers found an average of 325 microplastic particles. Compared to water from taps, water from plastic bottles contained twice as much microplastic. Some of the contamination likely comes from the process of bottling and packaging the water.”
Sea salts, fish from both the seas as well as fresh water, also have been found to contain microplastics.
The reports are so disheartening that the only silver-lining to the problem today is that no one has made a direct link between ingestion of microplastics and human health. Yet. It would seem logical to think that we will soon know and pay a huge price. There is already clear evidence that the chemical known as BPA contained in some plastics can cause problems with cardiovascular health, diabetes 2, and even liver dysfunction. Thankfully, the health food industry is getting proactive and have started offering microplastics free products in some cases, like the line of salts from Lunn.
Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led a study into contamination in UK waters, said in a Guardian interview, “Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere but we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realized just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”