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Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Oct 16. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04180. [Epub ahead of print]

Global Pattern of Microplastics (MPs) in Commercial Food-Grade Salts: Sea Salt as an Indicator of Seawater MP Pollution.

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Department of Marine Science, College of Natural Sciences , Incheon National University , Academy-ro 119 , Yeounsu-gu, Incheon 22012 , Republic of Korea.
Research Institute of Basic Sciences , Incheon National University , Academy-ro 119, Yeounsu-gu, Incheon 22012 , Republic of Korea.
Greenpeace East Asia , 6F Cheongryong Bld 257, Hangang-daero , Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04322 , Republic of Korea.


Previous studies have identified microplastics (MPs) in commercial table salts but could not exactly address the origin of the MPs because of several limitations. The present study is based on the hypothesis that commercial sea salts can act as an indicator of MP pollution in the surrounding environment unless the MPs are filtered out during the manufacturing process. A total of 39 different salt brands produced at geospatially different sites, including 28 sea salt brands from 16 countries/regions on six continents, were investigated. A wide range of MP content (in number of MPs per kg of salt; n/kg) was found: 0-1674 n/kg (excluding one outlier of 13 629 n/kg) in sea salts, 0-148 n/kg in rock salt, and 28-462 n/kg in lake salt. Relatively high MP content was identified in sea salts produced in Asian countries/regions. The abundance of MPs in unrefined sea salts ( n = 25) exhibited significant linear correlations with plastic emissions from worldwide rivers ( r2= 0.33; p = 0.003) and with the MP pollution levels in surrounding seawater ( r2= 0.46; p = 0.021) in the published literature. The results indicate that not only is Asia a hot spot of global plastic pollution, as previous studies have suggested, but also that sea salt can be a good indicator of the magnitude of MP pollution in the surrounding marine environment.


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