What is plasticosis, new disease caused by plastic pollution in birds?
The scientists behind a new paper, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, have discovered a new disease in seabirds, caused directly by exposure to plastics. The condition, called ‘plasticosis’, represents the first case of fibrosis induced by plastic consumption in wild animals, the researchers say.
Disease caused by plastic in birds
Birds with the disease have scars in the digestive tract from ingesting residues of the material. Small pieces of plastic, the Natural History Museum researchers in London explained in a statement, inflame the digestive tract .
‘Over time, persistent inflammation scars and deforms tissues, which impacts growth, digestion and survival,’ say the scientists behind the research.
The researchers analyzed 30-footed shearwaters from Lord Howe Island in Australia to see the relationship between plastic consumption and the state of the proventriculus organ, the first part of the birds’ stomach.
They found that the more plastic a bird consumed, the more scars it developed. This is serious because, eventually, a gradual rupture of the tubular glands of the proventriculus could occur.
If a bird were to lose these glands, it could become more vulnerable to infection or parasites, or even its ability to digest food could be affected. This impact can be especially risky for young birds and chicks, “since their stomachs are unable to hold much food’.
‘Some studies have found that up to 90% of young birds contain at least some plastic given to them by their parents. In extreme cases, chicks can starve to death as their stomachs fill up with plastic that they cannot digest”, exemplify the scientists.
Australia most plastic-contaminated birds in world
It is important to mention that the researchers chose this type of bird, since they had previously discovered that the footed shearwaters that live in that part of Australia are the most plastic-contaminated birds in the world because they consume pieces of plastic in the sea after mistaking them for a meal.
Alex Bond, the co-author of the study and Senior Curator and Head of Museum Birds, said in a statement: “While these birds may appear healthy on the outside, they are not on the inside. This study is the first time that stomach tissue has been investigated in this way and shows that plastic consumption can cause serious damage to the digestive system of these birds.”
What is Plasticosis disease?
Plasticosis is a fibrotic disease caused by small pieces of plastic which inflame the digestive tract. So far, ‘Plasticosis’ is only known to affect the digestive system, but there are indications that it could affect other parts of the body, such as the lungs, the scientists added in the statement.
They also highlighted that, although the disease has only been identified in these seabirds, ‘given the amount of plastic pollution, it is reasonable to assume that other species are also being affected by this disease.’
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