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Off topic: Plastics and BPA are getting into seafood and your bloodstream – Dr. Greger Spring 2019

3 part series documents plastics in fish and humans
but does not appear to document any associated health problems

See also VitaminDWiki

25 items in Dr. Greger category

BPA reduces Vitamin D levels (a study in VitaminDWiki)
Plastics, BPA, PCB and Vitamin D deficiency
The ocean and virtually all men and women now contain plastics
It appears that only in women do the increased plastics decrease Vitamin D levels

Part I: 5 minute video

Microplastic Contamination and Seafood Safety 5 minute video

Previous BPA Videos
BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction
Why BPA Hasn’t Been Banned
Is Canned Fruit as Healthy?
BPA on Receipts: Getting Under Our Skin
How to Avoid the Obesity-Related Plastic Chemical BPA
Are the BPA-Free Alternatives Safe?
Follow-on videos
Are Microplastics in Seafood a Cancer Risk?
How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?.


In 1869, a patent was taken out for a new substance to replace elephant ivory in the production of billiard balls, and the plastics industry was born. Ironically, what started out as a conservation-minded measure has turned into an environmental problem. Hundreds of thousands of tons of trillions of tiny plastic particles “are [now] floating on the surface of the sea.” This is how it works, either from plastic objects, like water bottles, that get worn down into tinier and tinier pieces, or plastic microbeads flowing down into the sewers from our sinks.

“Plastic microbeads are often used as a scrubbing agent in personal care and cosmetic products, such as facial cleansers, shower gel and toothpaste,” and “up to 94,500 microbeads could go down the drain in a single wash.” Then, when you trawl the oceans, you can find the same beads you find in the facial scrubs. Billions “are emitted into aquatic habitats every day in the United States.” Laid end to end, the United States emits enough microbeads to “wrap around the planet” more than seven times. (each year)

The reason this may be a problem is that the plastic then accumulates toxic compounds from the water and then shuttles them, along with any chemicals originally in the plastic, “into marine organisms,” concentrating up the food chain, and eventually ending up on our plates. “The potential hazardous effects on humans” then evidently include “alterations in chromosomes which lead to infertility, obesity, and cancer.”

Wait; let’s take a step back, and review the evidence. Plastic gets into the oceans, but does it even get into the fish? Yes: “Microplastics have been shown to be ingested” by fish and other seafood. But: “Are we [then actually] eating plastic-ingesting fish? Yes, we are eating plastic-ingesting fish.” But don’t we just poop the plastic out?

Small enough microparticles may actually be able to get absorbed through the intestinal wall and into our bloodstream. This “[u]ptake of ingested microparticles into small intestinal tissues and on to secondary organs has moved from being an anecdotal phenomenon to a recognized and quantifiable process.” But that’s in rodents. Just because it’s been demonstrated across a variety of lab animals, you don’t know if it happens in people…until you put it to the test. The closest we have is working with human placentas after childbirth, and what they found is that plastic microparticles could indeed “cross the placental barrier” from the maternal bloodstream. So, if it could get into a pregnant woman’s circulation it might get into her baby’s circulation as well.

The reason this is concerning is that plastic debris can be a source of toxic chemicals, both chemical additives in the plastic itself, and then pollutants the plastic sucks up from the water that can then be later released into the body. BPA is one of the chemical additives that can originate from the plastic itself. Given that BPA concentrations have been measured in plastic debris, microplastics “may be a major source of BPA in seafood.” But no one’s really looked into it…until now: “[BPA levels] in edible part of seafood.”

Yes, “fish and seafood…present one of the highest BPA contamination” levels. But is that just because they were looking at canned fish products, like tuna and sardines? Manufacturers may use BPA in the lining of food cans directly. Yes, “BPA may also leach from plastic in oceans, causing a direct contamination of fish.” In fact, “[s]ome…argue that the BPA environmental contamination in fish” could be worse than the BPA from the cans themselves, but you don’t know…until you put it to the test.

Here are the BPA levels found in canned seafood. You can see the highest levels were found in like tuna, cockles, sardines, and blue crab. But, these were all canned; so, you don’t know how much is from the can versus the seafood itself, until you look at non-canned seafood, and sometimes found even higher levels in some fresh mollusks, clams, flounder, and cod.

That’s not good, since plastics chemicals, such as BPA, “are known endocrine disruptors,” meaning known hormone disrupters. And “[b]esides that, [fat-soluble] pollutants [from seawater] [can glom] onto microplastic surfaces,” and potentially present additional risk—which we’ll cover next.

Part II: How Much Microplastic Is Found in Fish Fillets?



Microplastic pollution of our waterways may not just represent a threat to marine ecosystems but also to human health. “It is evident that humans are exposed to…microplastic pollutants in seafood,” which may create a food safety risk. But, is there some seafood less contaminated than others?

The first published study looked at mollusks. Eating an average serving of mussels, you consume around 90 plastic particles, whereas an average serving of oysters may contain only around 50. “As a result, the annual dietary exposure for European shellfish consumers can amount to 11,000 [swallowed] microplastics per year” — though we don’t yet know what kind of risk this would carry. Of course, “due to their “persistent nature, microplastic abundance” is only going to get worse.

“It is inevitable that humans eating seafood will ingest at least some microplastics, particularly [when the entire creature is consumed, such as mussels, oysters, and small fish. So, what, like sardines? We didn’t know… until now. “Contamination with microplastics and mesoplastics,” which are like little pieces of plastic larger than a millimeter. They looked at 20 brands of canned sardines from 13 countries over four continents, and only found plastic particles in about one in five. They suggested the disparity may have been due to improper gutting in the contaminated samples. But in mammals, at least, ingested microplastics can get through the gut wall and circulate throughout the body, and even cross the placental barrier. So, do microplastics actually make it into the muscles of fish, like a fish fillet? Let’s find out.

If you compare the level of microplastics in eviscerated flesh versus the organs, surprisingly, sometimes the flesh actually contained higher microplastic loads than the excised organs, which highlights that evisceration does not necessarily eliminate the risk of microplastic intake by consumers. Microplastics of all “colors, shapes, and sizes were detected in all investigated fish muscle samples.” So, they do actually get into the flesh. So, the average intake of microplastics from eating flathead, grouper, shrimp, scad, or barracuda may be in the hundreds per 300 gram serving, or just in the dozens of plastic particles in a two-ounce child serving. Besides the plastic itself, the particles may release absorbed pollutants like PCBs, and also release plastics chemical additives like BPA, which collectively may cause hormone disruption, cancer risk, and DNA damage. “Hence, although there is no standard tolerable dose for [[microplastics] ingestion as well as information on exact toxicity of different plastic types in the human body, taking…weekly [servings] of these kinds of fish [may] threaten the health of consumers (especially vulnerable groups including pregnant and breastfeeding women and children).”

In the US, “anthropogenic debris,” meaning man-made materials, were found in

  • a quarter of individual fish and in
  • two-thirds of all fish species tested, and also about a
  • third of individual shellfish samples,

demonstrating that “man-made debris has infiltrated” the aquatic food chain “up to the level of humans via seafood. Because [this] debris is associated with a cocktail of… pollutants,…this…[validates the] concern that the “debris may be transferring [these chemicals] to humans via diets containing fish or shellfish, raising important questions regarding the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of chemicals, and consequences for human health.” Now, this study also included non-plastic debris, like foams, film, and fibers, but we know now that the ingestion of microplastics “appears to be a widespread and pervasive phenomenon” across a number of commercially important mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.

So: “The potential for humans, as top predators, to consume microplastics as contaminants in seafood is very real, and its implications for health need to be considered… Despite the existence of considerable uncertainties and unknowns, there [may already be] a compelling case for urgent actions to identify, control, and, where possible, eliminate key sources of microplastics before they [ever make it to our oceans.]”

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