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Government to review health impact of microplastics

The Government has said it plans to review the impact of microplastics on dietary health following an inquiry that called for further research into the potential harm to humans.

Microplastics, which can be small pellets found in consumer goods or fragments of larger plastic items such as bags, are a major cause of marine littering and can cause physical harm to marine species.

The risks to human health are less clear since it is not known whether toxicity is transferred to the organism when fish consume plastic. Research, however, has found that microplastic debris is present in a quarter of fish sold for human consumption.

In its recent report on ‘The Environmental Impact of Microplastics’, the Environmental Audit Committee stated that further research in this area was “clearly required”, and urged the Government to set out a timescale within which it would publish an assessment of the potential health impacts.

In response, the Government said the chief medical officer of the Department of Health would be reviewing the health effects of pollution of several kinds including microplastics over the next year.

“It’s welcome news that the chief medical officer will investigate the impact of microplastics on human health,” said chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP. “Our inquiry recommended more research in this area – as microplastics are found frequently in seafood like shellfish and oysters.”

Creagh also welcomed the imminent publication by DEFRA of a report on the potential harm that microplastics can cause in the marine environment, and said the EAC looked forward to seeing the Government bring forward its formal consultation on its plan to ban microbeads by the end of the year.