How many times have you been told to cut back on salt? Well, these latest findings might make you more likely to do so – because apparently we are getting a lot more than expected when we sprinkle the flavour enhancer on our morning eggs and evening lamb chop.
A study published in Scientific American today says that most common table salt shakers also contain alarming amounts of plastic.
Sea salt was the worst with 550 to 681 microplastic particles per kilogram of salt, which is twice as much as is found in lake salt and three times the plastic found in rock salt.
So where is this plastic coming from? Well, there are multiple sources, but the major issue is the extreme amount of plastic polluting our oceans, hence the issue with sea salt.
And we’re not talking about the plastic bags that choke turtles or the bright, hard fragments that seabirds feast upon, the major contaminant is microplastics, minuscule beads that are found in exfoliating body washes, facial scrubs, and washing detergents.
Researchers estimate that people consuming the WHO recommended quantity of salt unknowingly consumes 1000 microparticles per year. Australians eat twice as much salt as the WHO recommendation.
While the study looked at 15 brands of salt sold in China, experts say plastic pollution is so widespread, it’s likely to be a similar story all over the world.
“Plastics have become such a ubiquitous contaminant, I doubt it matters whether you look for plastic in sea salt on Chinese or American supermarket shelves,” said Sherri Mason, from the State University of New York Fredonia.
Meanwhile, Professor Emma Johnston, head of the applied marine and estuarine ecology lab at UNSW and director at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, told Fairfax that Australian researchers are watching the contamination of our sealife with plastics.
“The microplastic concentration in Sydney Harbour is high and especially high in the guts of fish,” she explains. “We’ve found [microplastic] in 100 species – including mussels, oysters and fish.”
She also explains that the problem does not stop with the microplastics, which are made from petroleum, but that the tiny beads bind to metals and flame retardants.
“They accumulate [up the food chain] and some are endocrine disrupters,” Johnston says. “The bound contaminants release in our guts.”
Ms Johnston told Fairfax the key was keeping plastics out of our oceans by avoiding products that contain plastic microbeads, picking up rubbish in the street and supporting initiatives such as the container deposit scheme for plastic bottles.
Are you shocked to learn about this contaminant on your table? Would you like to see Australian salt under the microscope?