Policy Update

First in Science: Microplastics Accumulate in Marine Life in Just 6 Hours

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Coastal

NCEL Point of Contact

Mara Herman
Environmental Health Manager

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Innovative Study Reveals How Quickly Organisms Ingest Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution has invaded every aspect of our daily lives. It can be found in rivers and lakes across the world and even the depths of the Mariana Trench 36,070 feet below the surface. At the current rate, plastics could outnumber fish by 2050. New research identified just how quickly it accumulates in the body of marine organisms.

Study: Researchers created a mixture of water, algae, and nanoplastics to closely resemble the normal marine environment of mollusks. Mollusks are shelled organisms such as oysters, mussels, and scallops. The organisms were released into the water and observed with an imaging system to detect the number of plastics in their body. They were later transferred into plastic-free water to determine how long before they were plastic free again.

Results: The results found billions of nanoplastic particles in the mollusk’s systems within just six hours. After being transferred to clean water, it took 48 days for the nanoplastics to fully disperse.

This study was the first to test plastic intake of marine organisms in a situation that resembled environmental relevant conditions, as well as the first to show how quickly organisms can absorb nanoplastics. As small organisms such as oysters and mussels are rapidly ingesting plastics, those are being sent up the food chain to larger fish and eventually human.

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