Want Some Salt With Your Plastic? — Study: 17 of 17 Sea Salt Brands Littered With Petrochemicals

(EnviroNews World News) — A study published April 6, 2017, in Nature.com‘s Scientific Reports, examined 17 sea salt brands from eight different countries and found chemical impurities in all 17 samples. The primary contaminants include microplastics and pigments associated with textile, rubber and fiberglass products.

The study was conducted by researchers from Universiti Putra Malaysia, which is considered one of Malaysia’s leading research universities. Commercial salt brands from Australia, France, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal and South Africa were studied by dissolving the salts and then filtering out any remaining solid particles. These were then examined visually and by using Raman spectroscopy, a process that identifies molecules by laser light.

Of the 72 distinct particles found, 41.6 percent were determined to be plastic polymers while another 23.6 percent were pigments. The mean size of these particles was around half a millimeter, with the largest close to a millimeter. These particles were in the form of tiny fragments, filaments and film – not in the form of the familiar microbead, which has received widespread media attention.

Sea salt is typically made by evaporating off water, which leaves only the solids behind. A 2015 study carried out in China found more than 250 plastic particles per pound of sea salt. The scientists behind that research said, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on microplastic pollution” in sea products. The new Malaysian study now builds on that.

While the authors of the most recent study state there are “negligible health risks associated with the consumption of salts,” they warn that the “increasing trend of plastic use and disposal, however, might lead to the gradual accumulation of MPs [microplastics] in the oceans and lakes and, therefore, in products from the aquatic environments.”

Consumers may also ingest microplastics through the food they eat. These minute particles have been found in fish and shellfish at the supermarket. “When it comes to these very small particles that the fish ingest during their life cycles, we simply don’t know if the chemicals are inert or if they can affect the nervous systems or cell tissues of the marine organisms,” said Antonella Vassallo, Managing Director of the International Ocean Institute, in an interview with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. “Nor do we know how our health could be affected by eating fish that have ingested plastic particles throughout their life cycle,” Vassallo continued.

Each year, eight million tons of plastic enters the oceans. UN Environment states that 51 trillion microplastic particles are already in the world’s oceans. Every one of the Earth’s five oceans is affected. In addition to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, microplastics have been found in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica and in the Greenland Sea area of the Arctic Ocean.

During a recent beach cleanup on Oahu, the nonprofit group Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii sifted out beach sand and found an eye-opening amount of plastic debris underfoot.

Despite efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags and eliminate microbeads from cosmetic products, global plastic demand is growing at a compound rate of 5.3 percent annually, according to Grand View Research.

“Between 2015 and 2026, we will make as much plastic as has been made since production began,” states a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), just 14 percent of plastic packaging, which represents 26 percent of total plastics used, is ultimately recycled. The WEF urges a “New Plastics Economy” focusing on increased recycling, preventing plastics from entering natural environments and decoupling plastic production from petrochemicals.

The plastics-industry-backed “Joint Declaration” for marine litter solutions promotes recycling and cleanup efforts. But the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch found a pattern of industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council, along with the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), actively working to oppose bans on plastic bags and single-use containers.

France and China have banned plastic bags, as have Kenya, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Macedonia. While many municipalities in the U.S. have also placed restrictions on single-use plastic bags, California is the only state that has imposed a ban. More such actions, along with greater recycling and waste management will be needed to slow the stream of plastic into the world’s oceans.

OTHER GREAT ENVIRONEWS REPORTS ON PLASTIC AND EARTH’S OCEANS

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