In an article published on August 16, 2016 by The Sydney Morning Herald, journalist Esther Han reports on a new study showing that chemical pollutants sorbed to microplastics can leach into the fish that eat them. The study was published on March 10, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology and conducted by researchers Peter Wardrop and colleagues from RMIT University, Australia, and Hainan University, China. The researchers exposed Rainbow fish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis) to three different diets: 1) Food with polyethylene microbeads (PE-MBs) spiked with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), 2) food with clean PE-MBs, and 3) food only. In a previous study using a similar experimental setup, the RMIT researchers showed that dissolved free PBDEs in the fish tank water are negligible. Wardrop and colleagues sampled and analyzed fish tissue at 0, 21, 42, and 63 days. They found that the mean PBDE concentration in body tissue of PBDE-exposed fish was significantly higher than in both control groups at all time points. Up to 12.5% of PBDEs sorbed to the PE-MBs were taken up by the exposed fish. The demonstrated accumulation of PBDEs in the exposed fish is of concern “considering the large volume of MBs (and other microplastics) entering the aquatic environment and their largely unknown environmental fates,” the authors state. In a next step, the researchers want to determine the implications of their results for public health and evaluate how much pollution could be entering the human food chain through this exposure pathway. “If someone eats a fish, they risk eating any pollution that may be in the fish,” senior author Bradley Clarke summarizes the issue.

Mircobeads are used in various skin and personal care products and are washed into waterways after application, Han explains. Other microplastics found in the aquatic environment originate largely from single-use and disposable consumer goods such as food packaging.

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Esther Han (August 16, 2016). “Microbeads are leaching toxic chemicals into fish, sparking public health fears.The Sydney Morning Herald


Wardrop, P. et al. (2016). “Chemical pollutants sorbed to ingested microbeads from personal care products accumulate in fish.Environmental Science & Technology 50(7):4037-4044.

Chua, E.M. et al. (2014). “Assimilation of polybrominated diphenyl ethers from microplastics by the marine amphipod, Allorchestes Compressa. Environmental Science & Technology 48(14):8127-8134.