Microplastics are tiny plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters, no bigger than a grain of rice. They´ve contaminated waters as remote as Antarctica, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.
“It’s easy for people to dismiss plastic problems as something that does not matter for them, like ¨I´m not a turtle in the ocean, I won´t choke on this thing,¨ said corresponding author Karen Shapiro, an infectious disease expert and associate professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“But once you start talking about disease and health, there’s more power to implement change. Microplastics can actually move germs around, and these germs end up in our water and our food.” The pathogens studied—Toxoplasma gondii, Cryptosporidium (Crypto) and Giardia—can infect both humans and animals. They are recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as underestimated causes of illness from shellfish consumption and are found throughout the ocean.
“This is a very much a problem that affects both humans and animals,” said first author Emma Zhang, a fourth-year veterinary student with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
The article highlighted the significance of a One Health approach that requires collaboration across human, wildlife and environmental disciplines. We all depend on the ocean environment.
Co-author Chelsea Rochman, a plastic-pollution expert and assistant professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, said there are several ways humans can help reduce the impacts of microplastics in the ocean. She notes that microfibers are commonly shed in washing machines and can reach waterways via wastewater systems.
“Mitigation strategies include filters on washing machines, filters on dryers, bioretention cells or other technologies to treat stormwater, and best management practices to prevent microplastic release from plastic industries and construction sites.”