Plastics swim like fish in the water. It is estimated that by as soon as 2050, there will be more plastic than fish, by weight, in our oceans. However, that’s only the visible issue with plastics. When we see them in the ocean or laying in the seashore most people can quickly identify them as trash. But there is also an invisible trait.
Plastics can leach Bisphenol A, most commonly referred to as BPA, a chemical that makes plastic bottles and food containers more resistant to breaking. BPA leaches from the plastic containers into the food and water we consume, and as a result humans are widely exposed to this abundant chemical. More than 92.6 % of the US population tested positive for BPA in their urine, as reported by the Center for Disease Control in 2008. Since our bodies mistake BPA for a hormone, a range of diseases has been associated with exposure to this chemical such as obesity, diabetes, and breast cancer, to name a few.
Wait! Are fish swimming in a BPA soup?
BPA is present both in marine and fresh waters. We have the option to go plastic free, but fish cannot swim away from this hazardous chemical. BPA has been detected in at least 20 species of marine and freshwater fish, including tilapia and catfish, recent study shows. The same study found that BPA concentrations in fish increased by 10-fold since 2011, suggesting that BPA is not disappearing from marine organisms anytime soon. As it happens in humans, exposure to BPA may lead to health problems in fish such as reproduction. For instance, male fish showed reduced sperm quality and females delayed or no ovulation when exposed to BPA in the lab at levels similar to those found in aquatic environments. The chemical can also alter their brains when they are exposed at an embryonic stage. Zebrafish at an early-life stage were hyperactive and adults had trouble avoiding danger in lab tests. BPA effects could extend further than the current generation of fish swimming in the ocean today. Lab tests indicate that grandchildren of fish exposed to BPA show reduced rates of fertilization, and the great grandchildren have increased embryo mortality.
What can we do about this?
Let’s take part in saving an aquatic life from this chemical threat. Refuse plastics as much as possible. Use glass, stainless steel, or ceramic instead. Your food and beverage will taste better and fish will thank you.
What we can gain from refusing plastics and welcoming glass, stainless steel, or ceramic instead?
Lucia Speroni PhD is a biotechnologist curious about how the environment affects the health of humans and wildlife. In the lab, she enjoys studying how cells form tissues, and how alterations in cell organization can lead to cancer. She is currently combining her passion for science and the ocean by spreading the word about plastic pollution on her kiteboarding trips. Contact Lucia on social media:
Learn more about BPA:
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation report ‘The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics’ https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics
- BPA factsheet-CDC https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/bisphenola_factsheet.html
- Bisphenol A exposure, effects, and policy: a wildlife perspective. Flint S, Markle T, Thompson S, Wallace E. J Environ Manage. 2012 Aug 15; 104:19-34.
- The measurement of bisphenol A and its analogues, perfluorinated compounds in twenty species of freshwater and marine fishes, a time-trend comparison and human health based assessment. Wong YM, Li R, Lee CKF, Wan HT, Wong CKC. Mar Pollut Bull. 2017 May 25.
- Effect of bisphenol A on maturation and quality of semen and eggs in the brown trout, Salmo trutta f. fario. Lahnsteiner, F., Berger, B., Kletzl, M., Weismann, T. Aquat. Toxicol 2005, 75, 213–224.
- Neurodevelopmental low-dose bisphenol A exposure leads to early life-stage hyperactivity and learning deficits in adult zebrafish. Saili KS, Corvi MM, Weber DN, Patel AU, Das SR, Przybyla J, Anderson KA, Tanguay RL. Toxicology. 2012 Jan 27; 291(1-3):83-92.
- Transgenerational effects from early developmental exposures to bisphenol A or 17α-ethinylestradiol in medaka, Oryzias latipes. Bhandari RK, vom Saal FS, Tillitt DE. Sci Rep. 2015 Mar 20; 5:9303.