Plastics and toxic chemicals kill fish – and poison us

Plastic, pesticides and other toxic substances are devastating fish and marine animals around the world, according to a report released Tuesday.

the study, which has not been peer reviewed, was published by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a global coalition of environmental organizations. It reviewed academic research conducted around the world on the impacts of plastics and toxic chemicals and is the first systematic review of those scattered studies designed to paint a holistic picture of the problem.

The results were disastrous: pollution compromises the world’s oceans, fisheries and coastal communities while exacerbating the effects of climate change and overfishing.

“Many people think the decline in fish is just the result of overfishing,” said Matt Landos, researcher, aquatic veterinarian and co-author of the report.

“In fact, the entire aquatic food web has been seriously compromised with fewer fish at the top, loss of invertebrates in the sediment and water column, marine algae, corals and other less healthy habitats. , (and) a proliferation of toxic bacteria and algae blooms. Chemical pollution (and) climate change… are the main reason for these losses. ”

Pollution has disrupted aquatic food chains around the world, exacerbating the damaging effects of climate change and overfishing. Diagram by IPEN

About three billion people around the world depend on fish for their protein, especially in less wealthy countries, the report notes. In Canada, oceans, lakes and rivers are culturally and nutritionally vital for many Indigenous communities and support fisheries worth about $ 3.7 billion, according to Statistics Canada.

Yet fish and aquatic animal populations are declining worldwide, despite reduced pressure on wild fish populations. This includes the aquatic animals of rivers and lakes – by the way 83 percent populations of freshwater fish are declining – to the world’s oceans. And the proliferation of plastics and chemicals, along with overfishing, climate change and other stressors, is to blame.

Between 100,000 and 350,000 chemicals are sold today, and only about one percent have been tested for their impact on health and the environment, the report notes. Plastics are also prevalent and around 8.3 billion tonnes have been produced since the 1950s, according to the UN.

Plastic, pesticides and other toxic substances are devastating fish and marine animals around the world, according to a report published Tuesday by @ToxicsFree.

Of particular concern are pesticides, pollutants such as phthalates and per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS), pharmaceuticals and plastics, the report notes.

“Much of the action takes place in the life stages of animals which are largely hidden from the naked eye. (For example) the impacts that we are seeing are quite severe on embryonic life, ”Landos said.

The chemicals poison the immune, endocrine and other key biological systems of aquatic animals, he explained. They can also bioaccumulate throughout the food chain, poisoning major predators like seals, whales and humans.

Plastics have an even wider impact as they are often eaten by fish and other animals, filling their stomachs and leaving them to starve to death. Microplastics also leach toxic chemicals from organisms and the aquatic environment, Landos noted.

The results of the study come as no surprise to the principal investigator of the Ocean Pollution Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, Juan Jose Alava Santos, who did not work on the report.

“Anthropogenic pollution is probably one of the major anthropogenic stressors in the Anthropocene – an era of global change where humans fundamentally reshaped and changed many ecological processes,” he said. “The ocean essentially receives a cocktail of chemicals that end up in the water and also in the sediment.”

With this pollution comes overfishing and climate change to disrupt the ecological balance of oceans, rivers and lakes, he said. Indeed, warmer and more acidic waters can present health threats or risks to the habitat of vulnerable species, while overfishing transforms the predator-prey relationships between different aquatic animals.

“We see that this is some kind of plot between climate change and overfishing (which can) exacerbate environmental pollution,” he said. These impacts can be particularly felt in the world’s pollution hotspots – places like the Arctic, the English Channel and the Salish Sea.

In the Pacific Northwest and the English Channel, years of pesticide use and industrial pollution have left persistent organic pollutants in ocean and riparian sediments. Meanwhile, global air currents carry pollution from temperate and tropical latitudes to the poles, where colder temperatures knock them down from clouds and contaminate distant polar ecosystems, he explained.

Ending the crisis will require a global transformation in the way we use and regulate chemicals and plastics, Landos and Alava Santos agreed. Pollution can come from almost anywhere – from agricultural fields to landfills to factories – and pollution laws have so far failed to end the problem. Ending it will require systemic transformation.

“A lot of these issues come down to how we have designed our economies as linear economies, with the main driver of this linear economy being fossil fuels,” Landos explained.

For example, the oil and gas industry relies on plastics to represent between 45 and 95% of its future growth, according to a 2020 schedule. report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Other pollutants, from pesticides to PCBs, also cannot continue to be produced and released into the environment without worsening the crisis, echoed Alava Santos.

“We must move from thinking about maintaining a linear economy to moving to a circular economy which does not continually add more pollution to the biosphere and hope that this will not have an ever more serious effect”, Landos said. “What the data is saying is that there is already a very, very serious effect (on biodiversity) from the pollution that we have already generated.”


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