What causes oceanic pollution?
Each year, human activity adds millions of tons of waste to water bodies around the world. Some debris comes from ships and drilling platforms out at sea, but as much as 80% can be attributed to agricultural runoff, industrial waste, sewage, and trash people drop on the ground. This waste is largely made up of plastics and can be eroded over time into even smaller microplastic particles. By the time they reach water, these particles may already be contaminated with harmful chemicals, or can absorb chemicals in the water.
The particles can also become coated with algae, making it look like food to some fish and invertebrate sea animals. When animals consume these particles, their organs and tissue become tainted with harmful chemicals. These chemicals may include mercury, lead, cadmium, BPA, and other carcinogens harmful to marine life and humans.
As larger fish continually consume smaller organisms affected by pollution, the concentration of chemicals in their systems tend to build up over time. This process is known as biomagnification. By the time fish and other marine life end up on a dinner plate, there could be a large amount of toxins in their systems.
Does oceanic pollution affect humans?
Weighing possible risks
The average American eats 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish each year. If you eat an average amount of seafood, over time you will inevitably ingest chemicals from pollution-contaminated fish.
The question is whether the chemicals that come from seafood consumption are harmful. The research on this is ongoing, but so far, it seems that the concentration of chemicals humans typically ingest through seafood is too small to cause much harm.
It’s also worth noting that humans already consume small amounts of similar harmful substances through natural processes like sun exposure and breathing. It seems that the accumulation of these chemicals in small amounts is a normal part of life and shouldn’t be a big concern.
Seafood consumption safety
For the most part, you don’t need to worry about eating seafood. In fact, food scientists say most people should eat more seafood. As the best source of omega-3 fatty acids (which contribute to having a healthy heart), the benefits of seafood far outweigh the risks.
In some cases, such as in a chemical spill, seafood in a particular area may be at higher risk of having dangerous levels of contamination. When this happens, the EPA and FDA release advisories alerting you about specific foods you should avoid eating. However, once the advisory is lifted, those foods are again safe for consumption.
While science provides no conclusive evidence that you should be wary of eating seafood due to pollutants, oceanic pollution does contribute to upwards of $13 billion per year in environmental damage, including harming marine life. It seems inherent that this pollution should be reduced as much as possible.
Although there is currently little to be done about the pollutants already in the ocean, much can be done to prevent pollutants from entering the ocean in the first place. Recycling and reducing the amount of plastics you use goes a long way to preventing harmful chemicals from being transmitted through pollution.
How to protect your customers from contaminated seafood
If you work in a food establishment that sells seafood, you can help protect your customers from a potential food hazard by doing three simple things:
- Always purchase seafood from trusted establishments. If you are a food manager, make sure that your seafood suppliers are approved by the local regulatory authority. The FDA has a few tips on what to look for when buying fish.
- Always store seafood properly. Trace chemicals in the fish won’t matter if you leave it out too long in the temperature danger zone (41 – 135°F), where bacteria can build to dangerous levels. Also make sure to store raw seafood separately from ready-to-eat foods.
- Always heed seafood advisories from the EPA and FDA.
Join us as we strive to be more environmentally- and food safety-conscious! For more food safety tips, check out our California food handlers training.
— Calvin Clark