Here’s where your plastic goes: Inside marine species
A three-year long study by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) - Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), Versova, found microplastics in all marine species samples off the coast of Mumbai.
Microplastics are particles created by the breaking down of a large piece of plastic debris. They don’t get filtered by wastewater treatment systems and find their way to the sea through inland waterways, finally affecting the food chain.
“Over the past three years, we have been working with microplastic occurrence in fish, bivalves, and shrimp. We analysed close to 300 samples with 200 samples just for croaker fish (doma), and all of them had microplastics in them,” said CIFE researcher Martin Xavier. “It is a serious concern as we found microplastic in the tissue, which is the edible part,” he added.
The study, presented during a discussion organised on Monday by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and University of Mumbai, found that samples collected between eight to 10 kilometres off the coast of Mumbai contained 0.8 microplastic particles in every gram of fish (80 microplastic particles per 100 grams). The size of microplastics found in marine species was less than 100 microns.
Bivalves – molluscs like mussels and oysters, whose bodies are enclosed by a shell with two hinged parts – had the most microplastics in them, followed by fish while shrimp had the least. “The larger the species, more the chances of finding large-sized plastic pieces,” said Xavier. “If this is not addressed properly, it may threaten our seafood export,” he warned.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), preliminary studies suggest microplastics in drinking water don’t pose a health risk at current levels. However, there are concerns that absorption and distribution of very small microplastic particles may pose health risks. Independent studies have highlighted microplastic contamination can lead to skin irritation, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, and may even lead to cancer.
Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) also presented findings from an ongoing study, highlighting the presence of microplastic in areas such as Powai Lake, Girgaum chowpatty and Aksa beach. Over 500 particles of microplastics per kg were found in sediments from Powai Lake and around 800 particles of microplastics per kg were found in the samples from the two beaches. “Consumption in any manner of this water may not have immediate impact, but over time is extremely harmful for the human body,” said Sayan Dutta, a researcher from IIT-B.