Chief Medical Officer to review health impact of microplastic pollution

14 November 2016

In its response to the Environment Audit Committee's inquiry on microplastic pollution, the Government has announced that the Chief Medical Officer will review the impact on human health of microplastic pollution

Chief Medical Officer to investigate impact of microplastics on human health

The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said:

"It's welcome news that the Chief Medical Officer will investigate the impact of microplastics on human health. Our inquiry recommended more research in this area – as microplastics are found frequently in sea food like shellfish and oysters.

We also welcome the fact that Defra will shortly be publishing a report on the potential harm that microplastics can cause in the marine environment. We look forward to seeing the Government bring forward its formal consultation on its plan to ban microbeads by the end of the year."


The Environmental Audit Committee report on microplastics was published in August and led to the Government announcing a ban on plastic microbeads. In its response the Government has also said that it will:

  • consult on its proposed ban on microbeads in cosmetics;
  • gather evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found in other household products, such as domestic and industrial cleaning products;
  • look at what more can be done to tackle other sources of microplastics entering the marine environment.

Research on microplastics

The Government also highlights conclusions from new research funded by Defra, which it is soon to release which show that:

  • Microplastics can cause physical harm to marine worms. They remain in the gut and are subjected to extensive digestion with no nutritional benefit, resulting in energetic cost.
  • Microplastics can transfer along a simple food chain from a mussel to a crab. The crabs then release the microplastics back into the environment via defecation.
  • Chemical additives in plastic may be of greater harm than the pollutants from seawater that stick to microplastics.
  • Microplastics accumulate pollutants from seawater but this is dependent on the plastic involved and the pollutant. These pollutants can be released from microplastics into the guts of marine organisms.

Further information

Image: Flickr-circle-face-microplastics-beach

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