Malaysia faces cancer threat from the sea

13/03/2023 04:51 PM

By Amirul Mohd Sajadi

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 (Bernama) -- Microplastics and discharge from treated wastewater from nuclear plants are seen as potential major threats towards human health.

Professor in the Chemistry and Physics Department in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) Prof Dr Zaidi Embong said Malaysia is unprotected from this risk if awareness remains low and proactive action is not taken immediately.

According to Zaidi, both types of pollution are capable of destroying marine life ecosystems and eventually affecting global food security.

"The nature of plastics that are not easily decomposed after years will make it easier to be swallowed and collected in the body and tissues of most organisms.

"What is more damaging is when microplastic particles are trapped in the gills, which will eventually be absorbed into their tissue, turning them into a polluted food source that will then be consumed by humans,” he told Bernama recently.

Based on statistics by ‘Our World in Data’ (OWD), a total of 8.0 million tonnes (equivalent to three per cent of the global plastic waste) will flow into the ocean through various sources of discharges.

In Malaysia, it is estimated that on average, humans use a total of nine billion plastic materials annually and a big portion of it will end up in the sea.

He added that microplastics measuring less than 20 microns are capable of entering the organs of humans like muscles and also body tissue and potentially present risks to the respiratory system, blood vessels, kidneys and the human digestive system.

Zaidi also said besides microplastic, the focus should also be on issues related to treated water discharged into seas from nuclear plants.

Even though the discharge has undergone filtering processes to eliminate most radioisotopes, it still has a large number of tritium isotopes that are difficult to be separated from water.

"This tritium radioisotope contamination of marine life can disrupt ecosystems and food chains to the point of having a carcinogenesis effect that can cause cancer in humans," he said.

Recently, Japan expressed its intention to release water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea in the spring or summer this year.

Last April 2021, Japan approved the release of more than one million tonnes of treated water from the plant into the sea.

Zaidi said the effect of sea currents movement is likely to cause people living around the South China Sea to be affected by the discharge of wastewater from the nuclear plant.

He said he hoped an awareness campaign on the health risks if the public is exposed to microplastic pollution and nuclear waste can be implemented as a protective measure.

Water quality should also be monitored from time to time in a move to protect the interests of the community in the future, he added.




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