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Fibreglass in Seafoods: Startling Health and Eco Crisis

A landmark study has revealed that high levels of fiber-glass contamination are found within oysters and mussels the first-ever such detection of these particles’ entry into the food chain. The results of the study by researchers at the Universities of Brighton and Portsmouth thus raise very serious environmental and health concerns.

According to a study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, GRP particle buildup took place in the soft tissues of oysters and mussels that were gathered in the area close to an active boatyard in Chichester Harbour off South England. Scientists have detected up to 11,220 fibers of fibreglass per kilogram in oysters and 2,740 particles per kilogram in mussels using microRaman spectroscopy.

Dr. Corina Ciocan, Principal Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Brighton, stated: “Our study is the first of its kind to document such extensive contamination in natural bivalve populations. It’s a stark reminder of the hidden dangers in our environment,” she said.

Fibreglass, used since the 1960s in making boats, is strong but remarkably hard to dispose of. Thus, abandonment or non-final disposal is often done by many, resulting in small glass particles getting into the water, especially during the peak boat maintenance seasons. Those tiny particles then build up in bivalves like oysters and mussels, hugely important in marine ecosystems because they filter their food from surrounding waters.

It could have huge effects on human health, as the fibreglass and GRP in the shellfish make their way into the food chain for humans. The bivalves, being of a sedentary nature and filter-feeders, are going to be very prone to ingesting these particles, which can have a serious impact on their health. GRP ingestion interferes with the digestive system of bivalves, causing physiological stress and finally death.

According to Professor Fay Couceiro of the University of Portsmouth, it is an international problem: “It’s a worldwide problem, particularly for island nations with limited landfill space. Efforts are being made to find viable disposal solutions, but more needs to be done to prevent at-sea dumping and onshore burning,” she said.

It is a study that underscores the need for better regulation and management of how GRP disposal is carried out. The lack of specific global legislation for GRP boat disposal also adds to the problem. However, some countries are taking the initiative, France is going to introduce an “eco-tax” on all newly registered boats from 2019 onwards, which would fund efforts to dispose of them.

Although the full effects of this contamination are not yet known, there is certainly a lot of potential for large-scale interference with ecological systems. The researchers call for further research to understand the potential up-scaling through the food chain and into the human system.

Dr. Ciocan said that better regulation and management of GRP disposal were urgently called for. “We must improve public access to slipways and commercial boat maintenance facilities. Creating a better ethos around end-of-life boat management is crucial to minimize further exposure and spread of these contaminants,” she said.

The findings underline an increasing problem that may deserve closer scrutiny from the environmental regulators. The need, therefore, remains for designing complex strategies entailing legislation, funding mechanisms, and technological development to manage this growing environmental problem, when the problem continues to worsen and forecasts indicate that peak disposal needs will not be reached until 2025-2030 in some regions.

“We have to address this issue head-on to protect our marine ecosystems and ensure a healthier future for our oceans.” says Professor Couceiro.

More for you:

  • Uncovering hidden dangers in our seas – Fibreglass in oysters and mussels.
  • Study finds fibreglass accumulation in bivalves.
  • The study discloses the frightening level of refuse fibreglass in marine life.

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