Today, plastic waste is everywhere, with reports showing that on an average Americans dispose of nearly 33 million tons of plastic every year. Of this, only 10-percent or less actually undergoes recycling. Oceans in particular are a major dumping ground, with over 8 million tons of plastic-based pollutants chucked into them annually. No wonder then that researchers, analyzing the constituents of table salt, have found that it often contains rather alarming quantities of plastic waste particles.
In a new study, conducted by Shanghai-based East China Normal University, scientists have discovered a range of plastic pollutants in several brands of salt currently being sold in China. A direct result of the rapidly-growing problem of marine plastic pollution, the issue is likely not localized to China, and might be much more pervasive than it appears. The highest percentage of such waste materials was found in sea salt, followed by salt collected from brackish lakes and wells and even salt mines. Speaking about the find, Shi Huahong, the project’s leader and a professor at the university’s Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Research, said:
Microplastics are a particular threat to organisms due to their small size and their capacity to absorb persistent organic pollutants.
According to the team, somewhere between 550 and 681 microplastic particles were discovered in one kilogram of oceanic table salt. By comparison, lake salt was found to contain around 43 to 364 particles per 1,000 gram, with rock or well salt having approximately 7 to 204/kg of these harmful particles. As the researchers have pointed out, people who consume the recommended amount of salt in their diet are likely ingesting over 1,000 microplastic particles each year. Sherri Mason, an environmental science expert from the State University of New York Fredonia, added:
Plastics have become such a ubiquitous contaminant, I doubt it matters whether you look for plastic in sea salt on Chinese or American supermarket shelves. I’d like to see some ‘me-too’ studies.
While the actual health impacts of such plastic consumption are not yet clearly known, it is reasonable to assume that the effects would be detrimental. The findings of the study were recently published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.