..Human Health Findings: Methylmercury and PCBs are the ocean pollutants whose human health effects are best understood. Exposures of infants in utero to these pollutants through maternal consumption of contaminated seafood can damage developing brains, reduce IQ and increase children’s risks for autism, ADHD and learning disorders. Adult exposures to methylmercury increase risks for cardiovascular disease and dementia. Manufactured chemicals – phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals, many of them released into the seas from plastic waste – can disrupt endocrine signaling, reduce male fertility, damage the nervous system, and increase risk of cancer.
HABs produce potent toxins that accumulate in fish and shellfish. When ingested, these toxins can cause severe neurological impairment and rapid death. HAB toxins can also become airborne and cause respiratory disease. Pathogenic marine bacteria cause gastrointestinal diseases and deep wound infections. With climate change and increasing pollution, risk is high that Vibrio infections, including cholera, will increase in frequency and extend to new areas. All of the health impacts of ocean pollution fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations in the Global South – environmental injustice on a planetary scale.
Conclusions: Ocean pollution is a global problem. It arises from multiple sources and crosses national boundaries. It is the consequence of reckless, shortsighted, and unsustainable exploitation of the earth’s resources. It endangers marine ecosystems. It impedes the production of atmospheric oxygen. Its threats to human health are great and growing, but still incompletely understood. Its economic costs are only beginning to be counted.
Ocean pollution can be prevented. Like all forms of pollution, ocean pollution can be controlled by deploying data-driven strategies based on law, policy, technology, and enforcement that target priority pollution sources. Many countries have used these tools to control air and water pollution and are now applying them to ocean pollution. Successes achieved to date demonstrate that broader control is feasible. Heavily polluted harbors have been cleaned, estuaries rejuvenated, and coral reefs restored.
Prevention of ocean pollution creates many benefits. It boosts economies, increases tourism, helps restore fisheries, and improves human health and well-being. It advances the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These benefits will last for centuries