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What You Need to Know About the Plastic in Your Oysters

Sarah Dudas, a shellfish biologist at Vancouver Island University knows a thing or two about bivalves. And it’s enough to make you lose your appetite.

A staple of Northwest cuisine, oysters and clams frequently appear at menus throughout the region. But for Dudas, it’s more than just a delicacy, it’s her job. And so she may talk a little too much about what’s on your plate at dinner parties. In the past, she’d dish on the anatomy and structure of the shellfish. But now that she’s taken a deeper look inside, she’ll also reveal what you probably weren’t expecting to hear: there’s plastic in your beloved steamers.

In a study conducted by Dudas and her students in 2016, they planted a thousand bivalves across the coastal regions surrounding British Columbia and let them soak in the sand and water for months. When they dug up the clams, they dissolved them with chemicals and then looked at the remains. In addition to biodegradable materials, they also found different plastics.

“So when you eat clams and oysters, you’re eating plastics as well,” she said.

The study was conducted to find out whether the region’s aquaculture industry was contaminating its own crops with tools of the trade, like nets and ropes. But it turned out that the problem is much more complex.

Tracing the plastics led Dudas to Peter Ross, who has been tracing ocean pollution for decades. It turns out that the samples that Dudas found in her shellfish were similar to the plastics that Ross has been coming across for eons: tiny plastics originating in the manufacture of things like bean bag filler, fake snow, etc. Also the tiny beads from toothpaste and beauty products. The majority of the plastics were microfibers, from synthetic clothing materials, which are consumed by plankton, which are the lowest level of the ocean’s food chain.

Although the exact sources and the effects on human life are still being looked into, for now, the experts say that unless you’re eating a lot of shellfish, consuming a little plastic here and there is probably perfectly fine. After all, there’s probably microplastics in other foods that you enjoy as well.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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