Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More

How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?


“How Much Microplastic Is
Found in Fish Fillets?” Microplastic pollution of our waterways
may not just represent a threat to marine ecosystems
but also to human health. It’s evident we’re exposed to
microplastic pollutants in seafood, which may create a food safety risk, but is there some seafood
less contaminated than others? The first published
study looked at mollusks. Eating an average serving of mollusks
you consume around 90 plastic particles, whereas an average serving of
oysters may contain only around 50. As a result, the annual dietary exposure
for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 swallowed
microplastics per year, though we don’t yet know what
kind of risk this would carry. Of course, due to their persistent nature, microplastic abundance is
only going to get worse. It is inevitable that humans
eating seafood will ingest at least some microplastics, particularly
when the entire creature is consumed, such as mussels, oysters, and small
fish, so, what, like sardines? We didn’t know… until now. Contamination with
microplastics and mesoplastics, which are like little pieces of
plastic larger than a millimeter. They looked at 20 brands of
canned sardines from 13 countries over four continents and only found
plastic particles in about one in five. They suggested the
disparity may have been due to improper gutting in
the contaminated samples. But in mammals, at least, ingested
microplastics can get through the gut wall and circulate
throughout the body and even cross the placental barrier. So, do microplastics actually make
it into the muscles of the fish, like a fish fillet? Let’s find out. If you compare the level of
microplastics in eviscerated flesh versus the organs, surprisingly,
sometimes the flesh actually contained higher microplastic
loads than the excised organs, which highlights that
evisceration does not necessarily eliminate the risk of
microplastic intake by consumers. Microplastics of all
“colors, shapes, and sizes were detected in all investigated
fish muscle samples;” so, they do actually get into the flesh. So, the average intake of
microplastics from eating flathead, grouper, shrimp, scad,
or barracuda may be in the hundreds per 300 gram
serving or just in the dozens of plastic particles in a
two-ounce child serving. Besides the plastic itself,
the particles may release absorbed pollutants like PCBs, and also
release plastics chemical additives like BPA, which collectively may cause hormone disruption, cancer
risk, and DNA damage. Hence, although there is
no standard tolerable dose for microplastics ingestion, as well
as information on exact toxicity of different plastic
types in the human body, taking weekly servings of these
kinds of fish may threaten the health of consumers,
especially vulnerable groups including pregnant and breastfeeding
women and children. In the US, anthropogenic debris,
meaning man-made materials, were found in a quarter of individual fish and in two-thirds of all fish species tested, and also about a third of
individual shellfish samples, demonstrating that man-made
debris has infiltrated the aquatic food chain up to
the level of humans via seafood. Because this debris is associated
with a cocktail of pollutants, this validates the concern that the
“debris may be transferring [these chemicals] to humans via
diets containing fish or shellfish, raising important questions
regarding the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of chemicals,
and consequences for human health.” Now this study also included non-plastic
debris like foams, film, and fibers, but we know now that the
ingestion of microplastics appears to be a
widespread and pervasive phenomenona across a number
of commercially important mollusks, crustaceans, and fish. So, the potential for
humans, as top predators, to consume microplastics as
contaminants in seafood is very real, and its implications for
health need to be considered. “Despite the existence of considerable
uncertainties and unknowns, there [may already be] a
compelling case for urgent actions to identify, control,
and, wherever possible, eliminate key sources of microplastics before they [ever make into our oceans.]”

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