BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Microplastics are plastic fragments measuring less than 5 millimeters which are formed from degraded plastic materials and have the potential to pollute the environment. Due to their widespread presence in the marine environment, microplastics have become a significant global threat. The presence of microplastics is often considered as causing pollution in various environments, especially aquatic ecosystems such as rivers and oceans. Microplastics contamination can even be found in consumed salt, thus raising concerns about its impact on human health. However, information on the presence of microplastics in salt is still very limited. This study aims to determine the abundance and characteristics of microplastics as contaminants in salt and assess the human exposure to microplastics in Indonesia.
METHODS: A total of 21 samples of salt products were taken from various brands available in Padang City and Jambi City, Indonesia for analysis. Microplastics extraction was carried out by removing the organic materials contained in the salt samples using 30 percent hydrogen peroxide and then filtering them with a 0.45 micrometer pore filter. A stereomicroscope was used to detect the abundance, shape, size, and color of microplastics, while the Attenuated Total Reflection-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy was utilized to identify the polymer type of the microplastics. Furthermore, human exposure to microplastics can be predicted by calculating the estimated dietary intake and taking into account the daily salt intake.
FINDINGS: Microplastics were detected in significant amounts (p<0.05) in all salt samples, ranging from 33 to 313 particles/kilogram. The types of microplastics most commonly found in the samples were fragments (67.49 percent), fibers (23.82 percent), films (6.08 percent), and pellets (2.61 percent). The types of polymer identified include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polyester. The dominant microplastics were 100-300 micrometers in size (47.3 percent) and black in color (52.88 percent). It is estimated that adults in Indonesia will be exposed to 60.225-571.225 microplastics/year if they consume 5 grams of salt/day or 120.45-1142.45 microplastics/year if they consume 10 grams of salt/day.
CONCLUSION: Of the 21 salt samples analyzed, all were detected to contain microplastics. Inadequate and unhygienic salt production and contaminated seawater used as raw material contribute to microplastics contamination of salt, thus posing a risk to human health. By calculating of daily salt intake of the Indonesian population, it is possible to estimate their daily and annual exposure to microplastics. The results of this study contain useful information for the efforts to prevent microplastics contamination by relevant stakeholders and the provision of education and socialization about the proper salt production process in accordance with food safety standards as to reduce or even eliminate microplastics in salt. In addition, this study can provide valuable data on human exposure to microplastics in salt products that can assist policymakers in making standard references for microplastics.
- As food contaminants, microplastics are potentially harmful to human health and food safety;
- Analyses of 21 salt samples from different brands circulating in two cities in Indonesia, namely Padang and Jambi, showed significant variations in the abundance and characteristics of microplastics;
- Salt samples were processed using 30% H2O2 and 0.45 μm pore size filtration which may not have been widely used in previous studies conducted in Indonesia;
- By utilizing ATR-FTIR, the types of microplastics polymers present in the salt samples can be identified and new data on the most common types of microplastics found in salt can be obtained.
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