+1 Recommend
12 collections
      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found
      Is Open Access

      Human Health and Ocean Pollution

      , MD, MSc 1 , , PhD 2 , , MD, PhD, MPH, MSc 3 , 4 , , PhD 5 , , PhD 2 , , PhD, MPH 6 , , MD, PhD 7 , 8 , , MD, PhD 7 , 8 , , MD 9 , 10 , , PhD 5 , , PhD, HDR 11 , 12 , 13 , , PhD, DSc, CNRS 14 , 15 , , CBE, PhD, DSc, FRSB, FRCP 4 , , PhD 16 , , PhD, ScD 17 , , MD 7 , 8 , , MPH 1 , 14 , , PhD 18 , , PhD 19 , , PhD 20 , , MD, PhD 21 , , PhD 2 , , PhD 22 , , PhD, HDR 18 , , MA 1 , , MD 23 ,   , PhD 24 , 25 , 1 , , PhD, MPH 26 , 27 , , MD 28 , , PhD 29 , , PhD, CNRS 14 , 30 , , PhD 31 , , PhD 32 , , PhD 33 , 1 , , BA 1 , , PhD 5 , , PhD 34 , , MD 35 , , MD, MSc, ScD 36 , , MD 5 , 37 , , MD 5 , 37
      Annals of Global Health
      Ubiquity Press

      Read this article at

          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.



          Pollution – unwanted waste released to air, water, and land by human activity – is the largest environmental cause of disease in the world today. It is responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths per year, enormous economic losses, erosion of human capital, and degradation of ecosystems. Ocean pollution is an important, but insufficiently recognized and inadequately controlled component of global pollution. It poses serious threats to human health and well-being. The nature and magnitude of these impacts are only beginning to be understood.


          (1) Broadly examine the known and potential impacts of ocean pollution on human health. (2) Inform policy makers, government leaders, international organizations, civil society, and the global public of these threats. (3) Propose priorities for interventions to control and prevent pollution of the seas and safeguard human health.


          Topic-focused reviews that examine the effects of ocean pollution on human health, identify gaps in knowledge, project future trends, and offer evidence-based guidance for effective intervention.

          Environmental Findings:

          Pollution of the oceans is widespread, worsening, and in most countries poorly controlled. It is a complex mixture of toxic metals, plastics, manufactured chemicals, petroleum, urban and industrial wastes, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical chemicals, agricultural runoff, and sewage. More than 80% arises from land-based sources. It reaches the oceans through rivers, runoff, atmospheric deposition and direct discharges. It is often heaviest near the coasts and most highly concentrated along the coasts of low- and middle-income countries. Plastic is a rapidly increasing and highly visible component of ocean pollution, and an estimated 10 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the seas each year. Mercury is the metal pollutant of greatest concern in the oceans; it is released from two main sources – coal combustion and small-scale gold mining. Global spread of industrialized agriculture with increasing use of chemical fertilizer leads to extension of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) to previously unaffected regions. Chemical pollutants are ubiquitous and contaminate seas and marine organisms from the high Arctic to the abyssal depths.

          Ecosystem Findings:

          Ocean pollution has multiple negative impacts on marine ecosystems, and these impacts are exacerbated by global climate change. Petroleum-based pollutants reduce photosynthesis in marine microorganisms that generate oxygen. Increasing absorption of carbon dioxide into the seas causes ocean acidification, which destroys coral reefs, impairs shellfish development, dissolves calcium-containing microorganisms at the base of the marine food web, and increases the toxicity of some pollutants. Plastic pollution threatens marine mammals, fish, and seabirds and accumulates in large mid-ocean gyres. It breaks down into microplastic and nanoplastic particles containing multiple manufactured chemicals that can enter the tissues of marine organisms, including species consumed by humans. Industrial releases, runoff, and sewage increase frequency and severity of HABs, bacterial pollution, and anti-microbial resistance. Pollution and sea surface warming are triggering poleward migration of dangerous pathogens such as the Vibrio species. Industrial discharges, pharmaceutical wastes, pesticides, and sewage contribute to global declines in fish stocks.

          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.


          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.


          World leaders who recognize the gravity of ocean pollution, acknowledge its growing dangers, engage civil society and the global public, and take bold, evidence-based action to stop pollution at source will be critical to preventing ocean pollution and safeguarding human health.

          Prevention of pollution from land-based sources is key. Eliminating coal combustion and banning all uses of mercury will reduce mercury pollution. Bans on single-use plastic and better management of plastic waste reduce plastic pollution. Bans on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have reduced pollution by PCBs and DDT. Control of industrial discharges, treatment of sewage, and reduced applications of fertilizers have mitigated coastal pollution and are reducing frequency of HABs. National, regional and international marine pollution control programs that are adequately funded and backed by strong enforcement have been shown to be effective. Robust monitoring is essential to track progress.

          Further interventions that hold great promise include wide-scale transition to renewable fuels; transition to a circular economy that creates little waste and focuses on equity rather than on endless growth; embracing the principles of green chemistry; and building scientific capacity in all countries.

          Designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will safeguard critical ecosystems, protect vulnerable fish stocks, and enhance human health and well-being. Creation of MPAs is an important manifestation of national and international commitment to protecting the health of the seas.

          Related collections

          Most cited references606

          • Record: found
          • Abstract: found
          • Article: found
          Is Open Access

          Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made

          We present the first ever global account of the production, use, and end-of-life fate of all plastics ever made by humankind.
            • Record: found
            • Abstract: found
            • Article: not found

            Marine pollution. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.

            Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025.
              • Record: found
              • Abstract: found
              • Article: found

              Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet

              The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth system. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundary framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years. Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries. Two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth system into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.

                Author and article information

                Role: Senior Advisor
                Ann Glob Health
                Ann Glob Health
                Annals of Global Health
                Ubiquity Press
                03 December 2020
                : 86
                : 1
                : 151
                [1 ]Boston College, US
                [2 ]Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, US
                [3 ]European Centre for Environment and Human Health, GB
                [4 ]University of Exeter Medical School, GB
                [5 ]Centre Scientifique de Monaco, MC
                [6 ]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US
                [7 ]Université Côte d’Azur, FR
                [8 ]Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice, Inserm, C3M, FR
                [9 ]International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE), CH
                [10 ]Health and Environment of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), AR
                [11 ]Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, FR
                [12 ]IOC Science and Communication Centre on Harmful Algae, University of Copenhagen, DK
                [13 ]Ecotoxicologie et développement durable expertise ECODD, Valbonne, FR
                [14 ]Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, FR
                [15 ]Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, FR
                [16 ]Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, US
                [17 ]Trinity College Dublin, IE
                [18 ]Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation des Mers, FR
                [19 ]University of Exeter, GB
                [20 ]CIESM The Mediterranean Science Commission, MC
                [21 ]Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US
                [22 ]University of California at San Diego, US
                [23 ]Universidad de la República, UY
                [24 ]Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London, GB
                [25 ]Strathmore University Business School, Nairobi, KE
                [26 ]Nigerian Institute for Medical Research, Lagos, NG
                [27 ]Imperial College London, GB
                [28 ]World Health Organization, CH
                [29 ]University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US
                [30 ]Sorbonne Université, FR
                [31 ]Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, US
                [32 ]Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Section of Sustainable Health, Umeå University, Umeå, SE
                [33 ]University of KwaZulu-Natal, ZA
                [34 ]University of Genoa, IT
                [35 ]University of the Faroe Islands and Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health, FO
                [36 ]Brunel University London, GB
                [37 ]WHO Collaborating Centre for Health and Sustainable Development, MC
                Author notes
                Corresponding author: Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc ( phil.landrigan@ 123456bc.edu )
                Author information
                Copyright: © 2020 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                The Centre Scientifique de Monaco, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Government of the Principality of Monaco John J. Stegeman is supported by U.S. Oceans and Human Health Program (NIH grant P01ES028938 and National Science Foundation grant OCE-1840381). Lora E. Fleming is supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 774567 (H2020 SOPHIE Project) and No 666773 (H2020 BlueHealth Project). Plastic toxicity research for Dimitri Deheyn is supported by the BEST Initiative ( https://deheynlab.ucsd.edu/best-2/). Barbara Demeneix is supported by grants from the program H2020. Charles J. Dorman is supported by Science Foundation Ireland Investigator Award 13/IA/1875. William H. Gaze is supported by a Natural Environment Research Council Knowledge Exchange Fellowship NE/S006257/1 on the environmental dimension of antimicrobial resistance. Philippe Grandjean is supported by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the NIH (grant No. ES027706), a Superfund center grant for the Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of Perfluoroalkyl Substances (STEEP) Center. Mark E. Hahn is supported by U.S. Oceans and Human Health Program (NIH grant P01ES028938 and National Science Foundation grant OCE-1840381). Amro Hamdoun is supported by NIH and NSF Program on Oceans and Human Health Grants NIH ES030318 and NSF 1840844. Philipp Hess is supported by the IAEA Core Research Project K41014, by the European H2020 program for funding the EMERTOX project (grant number 778069), by the Atlantic Interreg (grant number Alertox-Net EAPA-317-2016) and by EFSA for the project EUROCIGUA (framework partnership agreement GP/EFSA/AFSCO/2015/03). Rachel T. Noble was supported by the US National Science Foundation Accelerating Innovations in Research #1602023 and the NOAA NERRS Science Collaborative. Maria Luiza Pedrotti is supported by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Luigi Vezzulli is supported by the following grants: European FP7 Program Grant AQUAVALENS 311846 and European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program Grant VIVALDI 678589. Pál Weihe is supported by the Danish EPA programme: Danish Cooperation for Environment in the Arctic and by the Faroese Research Council.


                Comment on this article