The plastic revolution that began in the 20th century has now turned into a nightmare for the environment and its inhabitants. Plastic pollution in the oceans has become a major concern in recent years, as it not only affects marine organisms. But, also human health indirectly through the food chain. Microplastics have become a ubiquitous part of our environment. These tiny plastic particles are found in everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink.
IIT Bombay study
A recent study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay has now found varying levels of microplastics in sea salt produced across India. It started raising concerns about the potential impact of consuming these plastic particles on human health and the environment. The study was conducted by researchers at IIT Bombay, who analyzed 39 different brands of salt sold in India, including both domestically produced and imported varieties. The results showed that all the samples contained microplastics, with the highest concentration of plastic particles found in salt harvested from seawater. The concentration ranging from 1.06 to 6.36 micrograms per gram of salt.
“Overall, the study conducted by IIT Bombay highlights the need for increased research and regulation to ensure that our food is free from potentially harmful contaminants. It also underscores the importance of taking steps to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics and other materials that contribute to the proliferation of microplastics in our environment…”
The highest concentration of microplastics was found in sea salt produced in Gujarat, with levels as high as 6.36 micrograms per gram of salt. Meanwhile, the lowest concentration of microplastics was found in salt produced in Tamil Nadu, with levels as low as 1.06 micrograms per gram of salt. The researchers used a technique called Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy to analyze the samples. This technique allowed them to identify the types of plastic particles present in the salt, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
What is Microplastics?
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that measure less than 5 millimeters in length. They are often released into the environment through the degradation of larger plastic items, such as water bottles and packaging materials. These particles can then enter our food chain through various pathways, including the consumption of seafood and the use of plastic packaging.
The sources of microplastics in the oceans are numerous. One of the significant sources is the breakdown of larger plastic items such as plastic bags, bottles, and fishing nets. These larger items degrade over time due to the effects of sunlight and wave action, and eventually, they break down into smaller fragments. Another source of microplastics is the direct discharge of industrial and domestic wastewater into the oceans. These wastewater streams often contain tiny plastic particles from products like clothing and personal care items. Microbeads, tiny plastic beads used in many personal care products like face scrubs and toothpaste, are also a significant source of microplastics in the oceans.
Damage to health and Environment
The health risks associated with consuming microplastics are not yet fully understood, but studies have suggested that these particles could cause a range of health problems, including inflammation, oxidative stress, and even cancer. The harmful impacts of microplastics on marine life are many. The ingestion of these tiny plastic particles can cause blockages in the digestive system, leading to starvation, and even death in severe cases. Microplastics can also leach toxic chemicals into the water, which can then be absorbed by marine organisms. These toxic chemicals can cause reproductive problems, developmental issues, and even death.
Moreover, microplastics have the potential to absorb and concentrate harmful pollutants from the surrounding environment. These pollutants include heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, which are then indirectly transferred to the food chain when marine organisms consume the microplastics.
In response to the findings of the study, experts have called for increased regulation of the salt industry to ensure that microplastics are not present in our food. They have also recommended that consumers take steps to reduce their exposure to microplastics by avoiding single-use plastics and choosing products that are packaged in alternative materials.
The study’s findings also highlight the need for greater regulation of plastic pollution in India. India is one of the largest producers of plastic waste in the world. India is estimated to generate 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day. Much of this plastic waste ends up in the country’s waterways and oceans. Here, it breaks down into microplastics that can be ingested by marine life. Eventually, makes their way into the food chain.
According to an official from IIT-B,” the discovery of plastic in the ocean is a relatively new development due to the absence of regulations on the disposal of waste”. However, the official also stated that there is currently no research that directly links the rise in microplastic consumption to health concerns.
To address this issue, the Indian government has launched a number of initiatives aimed at reducing plastic pollution. In 2018, the government announced a ban on single-use plastics, including items such as plastic bags, cups, and straws. However, the implementation of these measures has been slow, and more needs to be done to effectively tackle the plastic pollution problem in the country. To tackle the problem of microplastic pollution in the oceans, various policies and rules must be formulated on a fast track. These policies should aim to reduce the production of plastic products, improve waste management practices, and promote the use of alternative eco-friendly materials. The use of biodegradable materials that can break down naturally in the environment can be an effective solution to reduce plastic waste in the oceans.
The study conducted by IIT Bombay emphasizes the need for increased research and regulation to ensure that our food is free from harmful contaminants. Additionally, it highlights the importance of reducing our consumption of single-use plastics and other materials that contribute to the proliferation of microplastics in our environment. Overall, it is clear that plastic pollution in the oceans has become a severe environmental crisis that requires immediate attention. The harmful impacts of microplastics on marine life and human health are undeniable, and we must take responsibility for our actions by adopting sustainable practices that reduce our reliance on plastic products. Working together to find practical solutions is crucial to address the problem of microplastics in the oceans and protecting our planet and its inhabitants.
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