Alex Fremier.

While shocking images of floating islands of plastic trash in the world’s oceans cause widespread alarm, a more insidious threat to ecological and human health may be the nearly invisible microplastics in local waters, according to Alex Fremier, a riparian ecologist at Washington State University.

Tiny bits of plastic, measuring less than five millimeters, that enter the food chain, or web, can pose direct physical and chemical harm to numerous organisms, including humans, Fremier said.

“We need to understand more about microplastics and their potential health risks with released toxins,” he said.

In July, he will go to Belém, Brazil, through a four‑month Fulbright Global Scholar Award, to collect water, fish and sediment samples in the Lower Amazon River Basin with the aim of learning where microplastics occur in the regional web of human food.

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