Research conducted for the BBC in the shores around Kent has raised further concerns about microplastic contamination in the food chain.
An average of 60% of mussel samples collected from four of the county’s beaches contained microplastic particles. In Ramsgate the figure was 80%.
Dr Stephanie Wright from King's College London, who carried out the tests for the BBC’s Inside Out programme, said that though the mussels weren’t intended for human consumption, the impact on health remains a “big unknown”.
"Other animals will be eating those animals with plastics, which puts the particles in [our] food chain. Particles could pass through the gut and not cause any effect, or [they] could release contaminants, and these are chemicals with known human health effects," she said.
Research published last month showed microplastics in 72% of tap water samples. The particles have also been found in sea salt, honey, beer and seafood destined for human consumption.
The health impacts are as yet unknown. Experts have suggested the scale of the contamination merits further research. The European Food Safety Authority’s view is that further investigations are needed, but the particles are “unlikely” to be harmful to consumers.
Microplastics come from a range of sources, including pre-production plastic pellets, microbeads used in cosmetics and large items that break down in the environment, like food packaging and plastic bottles.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has made tackling marine plastics a priority. Earlier this month, he announced a call for evidence to consider the viability of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and other drinks containers in England, an issue under examination by the Commons environmental audit committee.