Plastic pollution is seen as a growing threat to wildlife as birds, such as fulmars, can mistake it for food
Small pieces of plastic ingested by seabirds could release toxic chemicals in their stomachs and pose a threat to their long-term health, scientists have said.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, are based on an analysis of stomach oil of northern fulmars, a common seabird found around the coasts of the UK, the Independent reported.
Plastic pollution is seen as a growing threat to wildlife as birds, such as fulmars, can mistake it for food.
Ingesting plastic has been known to cause blockages in the digestive system but scientists have wondered whether these human-made substances could also release harmful chemicals as well.
Lead author Susanne Kuhn, a student at the Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands, said: “I’ve been working on northern fulmars for almost 10 years.
“As these seabirds ingest plastics regularly, and 93% of the fulmars from the North Sea have some plastic in their stomachs, it is important to understand the potential harm this could cause.”
The researchers incubated the plastic samples in stomach oil and mimicked the conditions found in the fulmar stomach in terms of temperature and agitation. They performed chemical analysis on the oil at different time points to see whether chemicals had leached out of the plastic over time.
Concerningly, the study revealed that the plastic released a variety of chemicals in the stomach oil over time, in some cases for over three months. These were chemicals added by plastic manufacturers during the production process, including plasticizers, flame retardants and stabilizers.
Strikingly, the stomach oil, which came from fulmar chicks, already had some plastic-derived chemicals in it before the experiments, as the chicks’ parents may have been feeding them plastic.
The long-term health implications for the birds are unclear, but previous studies have reported that several of the leached chemicals can disrupt hormone release and reproduction and may have genetic effects in birds.