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EnvironmentHeavily polluted algae - a danger to humans

Heavily polluted algae – a danger to humans

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A new study by a team of researchers from Germany, Great Britain and Canada has found that algae that grow under the sea ice in the Arctic are “heavily contaminated” with microplastics, posing a threat to humans in the food chain, reports UPI.

Dense algae known as Melosira arctica contained an average of 31,000 microplastic particles per cubic meter, about 10 times the concentration in ambient water, the researchers found, cited by BTA. According to them, the average ranged around 19,000, meaning that some clumps may have had as many as 50,000 microplastic particles per cubic meter.

The research was carried out at the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research at the Alfred Wegener Institute, based on samples collected during an expedition with the Polarstern research vessel in 2021. The results of the work of the international team were published on Friday in the journal ” Environmental Science and Technology”.

“Filament algae have a slimy, sticky texture, so they potentially pick up microplastics from atmospheric deposition on the sea, from the seawater itself, from the surrounding ice and from any other source they pass,” said Deoni Allen of the University of Canterbury in a media release. and the University of Birmingham, who is part of the research team.

Fish, such as cod, feed on the algae and are in turn consumed by other animals, including humans, thereby transmitting a “variety of plastics” including polyethylene, polyester, polypropylene, nylon and acrylic, which are then are found in human bodies.

“People in the Arctic are particularly dependent on the marine food web for their protein supply, for example through hunting or fishing,” says biologist Melanie Bergman, who led the study. “This means that they are also exposed to the effects of microplastics and the her chemicals. “Microplastics have already been found in the human gut, blood, veins, lungs, placenta and breast milk and can cause inflammatory reactions, but the overall consequences have so far been largely unexplored,” explains Bergman.

Clumps of dead algae also transport microplastics particularly quickly to the deep sea, which explains the high concentrations of microplastics in the sediment – another key finding of the new study. The algae grow rapidly under the sea ice during the spring and summer months, and there they form meter-long chains of cells that turn into clumps when the cells die. Within a day, they can sink thousands of meters to the bottom of deep sea waters. “We finally found a plausible explanation for why we always measure the highest amounts of microplastics in deep-sea sediments,” says Bergman. She added that research shows that reducing plastic production is the most effective way to reduce this type of pollution.

“That’s why this should definitely be a priority in the global plastics agreement that’s being negotiated,” Bergman said. She will attend the next round of talks to develop a UN treaty to reduce plastic pollution. Talks are set to begin in Paris at the end of May.

Photo by Ellie Burgin:

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