Microplastics: a threat to animal and environmental health
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Microplastics: a threat to animal and environmental health

Felisa Guzmán

By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea, with an estimated 12 billion tons, warned Himilce Velasco Echavarría, a Master of Science and academic at the Centro de Innovación e Integración de Tecnologías Avanzadas (CIITA), Veracruz Unit, during the webinar "Environmental Danger of Microplastics."

The Coordinator of Innovation at CIITA, located in Papantla, emphasized that plastic production has surged in the last 50 years, with half of it being single-use. Additionally, she stated that 80 percent of the trash in the sea is plastic, which has a significant impact on human health, as 60 percent of the protein consumed globally originates from the ocean.

She pointed out that the concern about aquatic environments being contaminated with macro and microplastics is not only due to the introduction of contaminants into the food chain but also because marine ecosystems help regulate the climate through phytoplankton for oxygen production.

The specialist in Marine Biology commented that all types of plastic, through wear, fragmentation, and photodegradation, result in microplastics, i.e., fragments smaller than 5 millimeters. "Plastics do not disappear; they only disintegrate due to various factors such as erosion, mechanical wear from waves, wind, tides, friction with sand, and biodegradation by microorganisms, among others."

These processes, the academic referred, lead to microplastics with different shapes, origins, compositions, and even colors. The forms are mainly fibers, flakes, and spheres, all present on beaches, sediments, and water columns; and depending on the form, they might be more common in certain ecosystems and more easily ingested and incorporated into the food web.

In humans, she added, microplastics can cause cellular damage, cancer, infertility, mutations, pulmonary obstruction, and liver damage or disruptions in the endocrine system, among other effects.

The CIITA Veracruz coordinator expressed that our habits cause serious pollution problems, so it is essential to enhance research and the development of technology in bioremediation, such as the use of microorganisms that can degrade plastic due to their structure, as well as the development of new materials or bioplastics to move towards a sustainable life.

Gaceta Politécnica #1757. (November 15th, 2023). IPN Imagen Institucional: Read the full magazine in Spanish here