Trophic transfer of microplastics and mixed contaminants in the marine food web and implications for human health
Plastic litter has become one of the most serious threats to the marine environment. Over 690 marine species have been impacted by plastic debris with small plastic particles being observed in the digestive tract of organisms from different trophic levels. The physical and chemical properties of microplastics facilitate the sorption of contaminants to the particle surface, serving as a vector of contaminants to organisms following ingestion. Bioaccumulation factors for higher trophic organisms and impacts on wider marine food webs remain unknown. The main objectives of this review were to discuss the factors influencing microplastic ingestion; describe the biological impacts of associated chemical contaminants; highlight evidence for the trophic transfer of microplastics and contaminants within marine food webs and outline the future research priorities to address potential human health concerns. Controlled laboratory studies looking at the effects of microplastics and contaminants on model organisms employ nominal concentrations and consequently have little relevance to the real environment. Few studies have attempted to track the fate of microplastics and mixed contaminants through a complex marine food web using environmentally relevant concentrations to identify the real level of risk. To our knowledge, there has been no attempt to understand the transfer of microplastics and associated contaminants from seafood to humans and the implications for human health. Research is needed to determine bioaccumulation factors for popular seafood items in order to identify the potential impacts on human health.