Micro plastics are now present in large quantity in essentially all of the world’s water. As a result, they are also present in a fast-growing proportion of the world’s drinking water and food as well.
To quantify that to some degree — previous studies have found micro plastic pollution in mussels (a type of shellfish) living in the waters off of countries as diverse as Belgium, Canada, China, and Chile.
A new study from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), which Lusher took part in, has now also found tiny bits of plastic in the insides of mussels living in “apparently pristine” waters in Norway’s Arctic region.
“Apparently pristine” is of course nothing of the sort, as the Arctic region has been a dumping ground for industrial humanity for quite some time now (both intentionally and unintentionally as well — owing to air circulation patterns much of the air pollution of Western Europe since the industrial revolution has eventually been deposited there, hence the very high levels of mercury in ice pack and soil there.)
And, as we reported recently, plastic litter prevalence in the Arctic region has been surging rapidly over the last decade as it has warmed up and shipping traffic has increased. (Something else worth noting is that there has been some nuclear testing and nuclear waste dumping in the Arctic region in the past as well.)
The new study examining micro plastics pollution along the Norwegian coast found that, in that region, mussels now contained on average 1.8 bits of micro plastic — but that figure surges to 4.3 pieces per mussel in the Norwegian Arctic. “Micro plastic” in this case refers to pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm long (0.2 inch), but still large enough to be detected with common tools.
Reuters provides more: “Plastics may be getting swept north by ocean currents and winds from Europe and America, ending up swirling around the Arctic Ocean, NIVA researcher Amy Lusher told Reuters.
“Last year, Chinese researchers suggested that mussels could be a global ‘bioindicator of microplastic pollution’ because the molluscs live on the seabed where many plastics end up and, unlike fish, stay in the same place. The impact of microplastics’ on marine life or humans when eaten is unclear. Scientists suspect you would have to eat vast amounts of shellfish to be at risk, straining even Belgian diets where moules et frites (mussels and French fries) are a favorite dish.”
That said, the truth is that the effect of micro plastics exposure on human and animal health is largely an unknown (with the exceptions being seabirds and turtles that are known to die from consumption leading directly to blockage, blood poisoning, and death).
Something else to note here is that whatever micro plastics exposure people may be experiencing through shellfish consumption, it is dwarfed by the everyday ingestion levels that accompany the usage of synthetic fabrics and food packaged in plastic. So, while it may be prudent to avoid the consumption of shellfish living in heavily contaminated waters, it’s possibly more prudent to move away from the purchase and use of synthetic fabrics and heavily packaged food.
As it stands, some 8 million tonnes of plastic are washed into into the seas every year.
The Reuters coverage continues, providing context by referencing earlier research: “(Plymouth University professor Richard) Thompson’s research has shown that extremely high levels of plastics in the seabed can harm animals such as lugworms living in the seabed and build up in their tissues. Most bits of plastic, however, simply pass through the guts of creatures from shellfish to humans. Thompson said human exposure to microplastics in seafood was likely to be below that from everyday plastics ranging from toys to fleece jackets.”
While the issue already seems to be a serious one, it only stands to get considerably worse as population numbers, affluence, and consumption levels continue growing (however long works out in practice to be).
The Arctic region itself, speaking more broadly, is looking very likely at this point to be looted as completely as can be managed over the coming decades by every country in the vicinity (and by China as well) — with mining resources and fossil fuel reserves being of apparently the most interest. There are also some delusional parties out there, though, who think that they are going to be able to pursue industrial-scale agriculture to a serious degree in the region.