Further tests confirmed that the plastic particles tend to remain in the system even after the scallops are moved into clean water. The smaller 20 nm particles were still detectable after 14 days, while the larger 250 nm particles took over 48 days to be fully flushed from the system.
Richard Thompson, head of the university’s International Marine Litter Research Unit, called the study groundbreaking in terms of both the scientific approach and the findings.
RELATED: There’s Plastic in Your Poop: Microplastics Invade the Human Body
“We only exposed the scallops to nanoparticles for a few hours and, despite them being transferred to clean conditions, traces were still present several weeks later,” he said. “Understanding the dynamics of nanoparticle uptake and release, as well as their distribution in body tissues, is essential if we are to understand any potential effects on organisms.”
The study also involved scientists from the Charles River Laboratories in Elphinstone, Scotland; the Institute Maurice la Montagne in Canada; and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.
While the new research does not directly address the issue of plastics making their way into the human food supply, Ted Henry, professor of environmental toxicology at Heriot-Watt University, said the work is a critical first step.
“Understanding whether plastic particles are absorbed across biological membranes and accumulate within internal organs is critical for assessing the risk these particles pose to both organism and human health,” he said.