If You Eat Mussels, You’re Most Likely Consuming Microplastics

Unprecedented amounts of microplastics are floating around our oceans and many more of these animals are entering the habitat that calls the sea in their homes. Scientists even recently discovered microplastics in ice from Antarctica, which said that even the most remote areas of the world are not protected from their spread. As this ever-evolving spread of microplastics is slowly gaining more attention, various research groups around the world are trying to determine what health risks microplastics found in food and water have broken down for humans and other animals.

microplastics spread across the ocean are of particular interest due to the widespread use of seafood around the world. Oysters like various fish species, shrimp, and other oysters have been observed to be trimmed with microplastics. Now, researchers at the University of Bayreuth have reached a more important conclusion about the addition of microplastics in oysters to previous discoveries. The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Pollution, found that microplastics are present in at least four of the best-selling oyster species from seafood markets around the world. This suggests that anyone who eats oysters is more likely to receive microplastics particles.

Researchers have discovered a total of nine different types of microplastics in four specimen oyster species: European blue shells, Pacific Venus clams, undulate Venus, and green shell oysters. These oysters were bought in all grocery stores and farmed from different oceans of the world.  The two most commonly found microplastics in oysters are polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate, both plastics that humans use very commonly that connect it to human activity. 

Due to the natural difference in the size of each oyster species, the researchers used 1 g (0.035 ounces) of oyster meat as a comparative reference point for the four species to compare the number of microplastics found in each sample. They found 0.13 and 2.45 microplastics particles in 1 gram (0.033 ounces) of oyster meat on average from the four species analyzed. In addition, the microplastics particles they discovered ranged in size from 0.003 to 5 millimeters (0.0001 to 0.2 inches). The researchers used a special refining technique to help differentiate between different particles.

Dr. Martin Löder, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement, “To analyze the types of microplastics, we used so-called random forest algorithms for the first time in this study for both large-scale FTIR data sets and Raman measurement data. These enabled us to evaluate data quickly, automatically, and reliably.”

Current studies have not assessed the health risks associated with eating microplastics while eating these oysters, and at present very little is known about the health risks of eating or drinking microplastics for humans and animals.  However, it has been observed that various human organs, including the placenta, contain microplastics, indicating that it is not just aquatic life that is at risk of being scattered by microplastics particles and that more needs to be done to understand its potential risk to life.

Professor Dr. Christian Laforsch, the corresponding author of the study concluded, “Our new research represents significant progress in the field. We have combined the latest technologies and methods in sample preparation, measurement, and microplastic contamination analysis in such a way that comparative results can be obtained on this basis in the future. Such systematic harmonization is an essential prerequisite for the proper assessment and evaluation of the risks arising from the spread of microplastics in the environment. “