Ocean plastic pollution is a significant environmental problem that affects not only marine life but also human health. Plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into tiny particles known as microplastics, which can enter the food chain and accumulate toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals can harm human health when we eat seafood that has been contaminated with microplastics. Additionally, when plastic debris breaks down, it can release tiny particles that become airborne and enter our lungs, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
One of the most common toxic chemicals that accumulate in microplastics is Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastic, a hard, clear plastic commonly used in food containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. BPA has been linked to a range of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Another toxic chemical found in microplastics is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs were widely used as industrial coolants and lubricants until they were banned in the 1970s. PCBs are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive problems, and neurological damage.
Phthalates are another group of chemicals found in microplastics. Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible and are found in many consumer products, including food packaging, shower curtains, and toys. Phthalates have been linked to developmental problems in children, reproductive problems, and hormonal imbalances.
Apart from toxic chemicals, plastic also contains other harmful substances such as dioxins, which are highly toxic and can cause cancer and reproductive problems. Plastic also contains heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, which can cause neurological damage and developmental problems.
How does Ocean Plastic Affect Human Health?
Toxic Chemicals in the Food Chain
Plastic pollution in the ocean can have a significant impact on human health as it enters the food chain. The plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into tiny pieces known as microplastics that can be ingested by marine life. These microplastics can then accumulate toxic chemicals, such as Bisphenol-A (BPA), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and phthalates, that can enter our food chain when we eat seafood. A study by the University of Ghent in Belgium found that people who eat seafood are exposed to 11 times more microplastics than those who do not.
Respiratory and Cardiovascular Problems
Apart from being ingested through the food chain, microplastics can also be inhaled by humans. When plastic debris breaks down into smaller pieces, it can release tiny particles that can become airborne and enter our lungs, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. A study by the University of Plymouth found that each person inhales approximately 70,000 microplastics annually.
Chemicals in Plastic
Plastic contains several chemicals that are harmful to human health. The manufacturing process of plastic involves the use of chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, which are known to be carcinogenic. When plastic debris enters the ocean, it breaks down and releases these chemicals, which can contaminate the water and harm marine life. When humans consume seafood that has been exposed to these chemicals, they can also become exposed to them, leading to health problems such as cancer and reproductive issues.
The impact of ocean plastic pollution on human health is significant, and it is essential to take steps to reduce plastic waste and its impact on our health. Here are some actions we can take
Reduce Plastic Consumption
One of the most effective ways to reduce plastic waste is to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. We can bring our reusable bags, water bottles, and coffee cups instead of using disposable ones. We can also choose products with less plastic packaging, such as loose fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packaged ones
Proper Disposal of Plastic Waste
Another crucial step is to dispose of plastic waste properly. We can recycle plastic items and avoid littering, especially near waterways. Proper disposal of plastic waste reduces the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean and helps to protect marine life.
Support Policies to Tackle Ocean Plastic Pollution
Governments can play a significant role in tackling ocean plastic pollution by implementing policies that encourage the reduction of single-use plastics and the proper disposal of plastic waste. Supporting such policies and advocating for their implementation can help reduce plastic waste and its impact on human health.
Support Research on the Health Impacts of Ocean Plastic Pollution
Research on the impact of ocean plastic pollution on human health is still in its early stages, and more studies are needed to fully understand the extent of the problem. Supporting research on the health impacts of ocean plastic pollution can help raise awareness of the problem and inform policy decisions.
In conclusion, ocean plastic pollution is a significant threat to human health, and we must take steps to reduce plastic waste and its impact on our health. By reducing our consumption of single-use plastics, properly disposing of plastic waste, supporting policies to tackle ocean plastic pollution, and supporting research on the health impacts of ocean plastic pollution, we can work together to protect our health and the health of our planet.