SST research investigates the presence of plastic-related contaminants in mussels.

[Copy provided by Amarein Fourie.]

Researchers at SST were involved in a recent study to investigate the presence of plastic-related contaminants in mussels, as part of the Towards Zero Plastics to the Seas of Africa project, funded by The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This study has just been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, and is also the first of its kind in South Africa!

Plastic-related contaminants, namely bisphenols and benzophenone UV-filters, are present in a wide variety of plastic materials, microplastics and consumer products, but are essentially what makes plastic, plastic. However, they can contaminate the marine environment when plastic items or other consumer products, such as personal care products, for example some micro granules in face scrubs are made from microplastics, end up in the environment through littering or sewage discharges. These contaminants are not only harmful to the marine environment and all marine animals but can also be harmful to human health when we eat seafood containing concentrations of these contaminants.

To investigate the presence of plastic-related contaminant in mussels, SST’s researchers collected wild brown mussels from seven sites along the coast of Algoa Bay, South Africa. These samples were then processed at the SST laboratory and sent to collaborators at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway to be analysed for contaminants, including bisphenol analogues, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and bisphenol AP (BPAP), and benzophenone UV-filters, such as benzophenone-1. Most of the contaminants tested for were detected in the mussels, but what made the study remarkable, was that BPAP was detected in mussels for the first time. Even more worrisome, based on recent research the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proposed reducing the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of BPA to 0.04 nanogram per kilogram body weight . In light of this announcement, the findings from SST’s research indicate that the consumption of mussels (from Algoa Bay) can actually exceed this limit. Another important finding from this study was that the concentration of contaminants found in the mussels in Algoa Bay is not harmful the average human consumer. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor because it can mimic the reproductive hormone, oestrogen, and BPA has been associated with numerous hormonal health problems, such as rapid puberty. BPA is also a human carcinogen, resulting in an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer due to its tumour promoting properties.  It is important that pollutant levels are frequently monitored in the marine environment, to detect and mitigate pollution, and mussels are a useful organism to do just that.

Your actions can have a direct impact on the marine environment, and it circles back to your own health: littering or using personal care products containing microplastics ends up with plastics in the ocean. The contaminants associated with them in turn impact marine life such as mussels and fish which are popular seafood items. Therefore, choose your products wisely and discard your waste correctly to ensure a healthier and cleaner environment for animals and mankind alike.

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