In the cover story of the February 2015 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, journalist Nate Seltenrich discusses the human health risks of marine plastic pollution. Plastic pollution of the world’s oceans is a significant environmental concern. At the same time, plastics in consumer products have become subject to increasing scrutiny regarding their potential adverse health effects. Seltenrich suggests that at the junction of these two lines of inquiry is an emerging third field investigating whether consumption of plastic particles by marine organisms translates into potentially harmful exposures for people consuming seafood. The viewpoints on the human health risks of marine plastic pollution vary and are very complex, Seltenrich says. At this point there are more questions than answers. Seltenrich highlights that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently working on answering some of the key questions: firstly, EPA experts together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are developing a risk assessment to estimate the chemical loading effects of plastic litter on marine organisms. Secondly, the EPA aims to begin work on the human health risk assessment by 2016. Seltenrich further reports on various examples of ongoing research in the field e.g. a project that aims to demonstrate the biomagnification of chemicals introduced via plastics in marine organisms. Sources interviewed for the article expressed a mix of skepticism and concern towards the idea that ocean plastics might be posing a risk to human health. However, an agreement has been reached that further research is needed.
Nate Seltenrich (February 2015). “New link in the food chain? Marine plastic pollution and seafood safety.” Environmental Health Perspectives 123-A34 (open access).