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Microplastic found in sea salt a threat to health, DOH warns

The Department of Health (DOH) is advising the public to employ discipline in the use of plastics and practice the proper disposal of garbage, particularly plastic waste that ends up in the sea.

Attuned to a Filipino proverb, "Ang basurang itinapon mo, babalik sa iyo," the health department confirmed the presence of very small pieces of plastic or microplastics in some salt samples that were harvested from the sea.

In the report of Tricia Zafra on Saksi, salt is a common Filipino condiment to accompany viands and side dishes.

With the high possibility that table salt has been contaminated with microplastics the health implications were raised by experts as these may find its way to food items.

The GMA Program Born to be Wild had asked an expert to test salt samples bought from the market.

"So pagkaraan ng limang samples na in-examine natin under the microscope nadiskubre natin yung apat na samples ay positibo sa microplastic," Dr. Nielsen Donato, Born to be Wild host, said.

Donato's co-host, biologist Dr. Jose Isagani Janairo, said, "Unang-una, we should interpret with caution 'yung mga resulta natin kasi kailangan pa natin mabeirpika pa."

"Pero makikita natin na 'yung mga asin na ina-analyze natin may mga bagay na hindi dapat nandoon, may mga contaminants. As to the exact identity, 'yun 'yung kailangan pa natin na malaman. So nagpapakita ito na talagang kailangan natin pag-ibayuhin pangangalaga sa ating kapaligiran," he added.

The results were shown to DOH Undersecretary Herminigildo Valle, who confirmed that there is a possibility that table salt can be contaminated with plastic.

"Umiiinom tayo ng tubig e. Gumagamit tayo ng salt. So, you know talagang pumapasok sa katawan natin. Ngayon mayroon pa ngang microplastics. You could also inhale it," he added.

The study conducted in China in 2015 showed that there is a high level of microplastics in salt harvested from the sea compared to other sources for salt.

So it can be inferred that marine products such as salt is contaminated by microplastics.

In 2017, researchers from France, the United Kingdom and Malaysia tested 17 types of salt from eight countries.

The results showed that 16 out of 17 salt samples tested positive for microplastics.

The level of microplastics found in the samples, the researchers said, is still low that these were not yet considered a danger to one's health.

However, the researchers warned that the level of contamination may increase in time because of the continued use of plastics and improper disposal of plastics.

With the results of the research, it was recommended that regular tests for microplastics should be conducted on marine products.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that half of the plastic garbage found in oceans come from only five countries and Philippines was identified as one of them. The other countries are China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Usec. Valle said that microplastics were not yet identified as a direct cause of any particular illness or disease.

However, based on the current medical studies the danger to health posed by the presence of microplastics in marine products is a cause for concern.

"Ang components ng microplastic is ano, toxic," Valle said.

"Mga petroleum-based products na 'yan e. 'yung mga polyethylene, biphenols, may known effect 'yan sa cellular immunity, cellular processes. DNA maaapektuhan. You could think of cancer," he added.

Despite the limitation of the medical studies conducted so far, the health department has urged the public to lessen the use of plastics and to dispose plastic waste properly. — with Margaret Claire Layug/BAP, GMA News