Health warning: Your salt comes with a side of plastic
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Health warning: Your salt comes with a side of plastic

NEXT time someone asks you if you want salt with that, you might want to think twice.

A new study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, has bad news for salt lovers. It turns out microplastics are found in 90 percent of all packaged table salt – and Asia is the worst region in the world for it.

Microplastics are small barely visible pieces of plastic that enter and pollute the environment as plastic degrades and breaks down. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines them as any type of plastic fragment that is less than five millimetres in length.

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These have been piling into the oceans as humans struggle to curb their pervasive use of plastics in everyday life and lack the ability and resources to dispose of it safely.

The team from South Korea’s Incheon National University and Greenpeace East Asia examined 39 brands of salt harvested in 21 countries. They found only three of the samples had no detectable microplastics.

Those three found to be microplastics-free were a refined sea salt from Taiwan, a refined rock salt from China, and an unrefined sea salt in France.


Manta rays swim with plastics in Indonesia. Source: Marine Megafauna Foundation

The new research also looks at the correlation between microplastics in table salt and how predominant it is in the environment where the salt came from. Not surprisingly, they were pretty closely related.

“The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region,” said Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine science professor at Incheon National University in South Korea.

As Asia is where the most plastic enters the oceans, it’s no surprises that it’s also got the highest content of microplastics.

“The highest quantities of microplastics were found in salt sold in Indonesia,” Parker writes. “Asia is a hot spot for plastic pollution, and Indonesia – with 54,720 km of coastline – ranked in an unrelated 2015 study as suffering the second-worst level of plastic pollution in the world.”

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Researchers estimate the average adult will consume about 2,000 pieces of microplastic in salt each year. But, worryingly, this is only a fraction of the total amount consumed through other food, drinking water and – surprisingly – the air.

An earlier study found inhaling microplastics in the air is by far the largest contributor. People ingest roughly 80 percent of the microplastics that enters their bodies through this route.

Collectively, it’s estimated the average person ingests 32,000 pieces annually.

The health risks of this on humans has been difficult to verify, but a study conducted on mice doesn’t bode well for us.

It found microplastics accumulated in the liver, kidney and gut, where they adversely impacted liver function, altered metabolism and other important biological reactions.

At the rate we’re currently consuming microplastics, the effects further down the line can’t be good.

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