A new study reveals that plastic particles ingested by fish aren’t just bad for the fish; they could be wreaking havoc with the food chain. This is the second study to find that plastic absorbs chemicals such as PCB (a coolant) and PBDE (a flame retardant).
According to smithsonianmag.com, researchers at San Diego State University tested three groups of small fish: one group was fed clean plastic, another was fed plastic that had been in the ocean (and absorbed chemicals) and another group did not ingest any plastic. The results? Fish that had been fed plastic that had been in the water developed health problems at a higher rate than those in the other two groups.
"We saw significantly greater concentrations of many toxic chemicals in the fish that were fed the plastic that had been in the ocean, compared to the fish that got either clean plastic or no plastic at all," Rochman says. "So, is plastic a vector for these chemicals to transfer to fish or to our food chain? We’re now fairly confident that the answer is yes."
The study was conducted after a research done by Scripps Institution of Oceanography found high concentrations of tiny plastic particles in the area of the Pacific Ocean that has been called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."
All this is bad news for the entire food webs that rest upon these small fish, which include us. "If these small fish are eating the plastic directly and getting exposed to these chemicals, and then a bigger fish comes up and eat five of them, they’re getting five times the dose, and then the next fish—say, a tuna—eats five of those and they have twenty-five times the dose," Rochman explains. "This is called biomagnification, and it’s very well-known and well-understood."
Studies like this one should serve as motivation to keep plastic pollution out of our waterways--a direct route to the ocean. Statistics show that plastic bags and expanded polystyrene (commonly used in take out food containers) are among the top four items found on coastal clean up days. We can take a huge step in the right direction by phasing out single-use plastic grocery bags statewide.
See the list of CA communities that have already banned the bag.
Photo Credit: Seotaro/Smithsonianmag.com