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Health impacts of plastic pollution are a top concern

When it comes to environmental threats to human health, the impact of marine plastic pollution is a top concern, according to a new study from the University of Exeter.

The researchers surveyed more than 15,000 people across 14 European countries and Australia as part of the Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe (SOPHIE) Project.

The project was designed to investigate public perceptions toward various marine topics. The research comes as plastic pollution is widely recognized as a major cause for international attention. 

The survey revealed that both Europeans and Australians are highly concerned about the consequences of marine plastic pollution for human health.

Plastic pollution was ranked at the top of 16 marine-related threats in terms of cause for concern, including chemical or oil spills, marine biodiversity loss, and complications of climate change such as sea-level rise.

Microplastics have been found in a wide range of fish that are consumed by humans, and the potential impacts are not yet known. The survey respondents strongly support more research to understand the impact of marine plastic pollution on our health.

“Plastic pollution is one of the fastest-growing environmental challenges on our planet. Yet, while the damage to marine life is well understood, the impact on human health remains unclear,” said study lead author Sophie Davison.

“Our study indicates that this is of grave concern to the public, and that there’s widespread support for more research in this area.”

Study co-author Mathew White said the primary goal of the research is to inform decision-making around policy on plastic pollution and to prioritize funding for studies into the potential impacts on human health.

“Given that marine plastic pollution is a global challenge and all of society contributes to some degree to the plastic consumption cycle, we urgently need to find ways of connecting the high level of concern with ways of curbing the leakage of plastic into the environment,” said White.

The study is published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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