Warning on plastic's toxic threat

15 May 2007
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Here's some disturbing information on plastic pollution...

From BBC World News:

Plastic waste in the oceans poses a potentially devastating long-term toxic threat to the food chain, according to marine scientists.

Studies suggest billions of microscopic plastic fragments drifting underwater are concentrating pollutants like DDT.

Most attention has focused on dangers that visible items of plastic waste pose to seabirds and other wildlife. But researchers are warning that the risk of hidden contamination could be more serious. Dr Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth has investigated how plastic degrades in the water and how tiny marine organisms, such as barnacles and sand-hoppers, respond.

He told the BBC: "We know that plastics in the marine environment will accumulate and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and you can get concentrations several thousand times greater than in the surrounding water on the surface of the plastic...Now there's the potential for those chemicals to be released to those marine organisms if they then eat the plastic. Once inside an organism, the risk is that the toxins may then be transferred into the creature itself. There are different conditions in the gut environment compared to surrounding sea water and so the conditions that cause those chemicals to accumulate on the surface of the plastic may well be reversed - leading to a release of those chemicals when the plastic is eaten.

It is as if the plastic particles act as magnets for poisons in the ocean"

From Algalita Marine Research Foundation:

Plastics are the largest and most detrimental part of the marine debris problem. The majority of marine debris is comprised of plastic materials—60-80% overall and 90% of floating debris.

Plastic is a mix of monomers linked together to become polymers, to which additional chemicals can be added for suppleness, flame retardance, and other qualities. Because of their properties, plastics are essentially “forever”: they do not biodegrade or dissolve into organic matter that can reenter the life cycle. Instead plastic photodegrades, which means it breaks up into smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight, and these smaller pieces persist in the marine environment for hundreds of years. No one knows the true length of time it will take for these plastic pieces to biodegrade, but researchers estimate that it could be several centuries...

... Some of this floating plastic may end up in the food chain because many marine organisms are known to ingest plastics they mistake for food. 40% of the premature deaths of innocent Albatross chicks in Midway Atoll are from plastics in the regurgitated food the parents provide their young.9 Even zooplankton and marine invertebrates are known to ingest small plastic fragments of marine debris.10 Nurdles are readily confused for fish eggs by mammals that consume them. Another problem related to marine organisms is entanglement, with mammals getting caught in various marine debris. Cases of harm to marine mammals range from the classic examples of fish being caught by a 6-pack soda ringlet to a baby turtle getting a plastic ring stuck around its shell - as he or she grows the shell deforms to a bow shape.

Plastic debris affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species...

... Plastics may be releasing pollutants because of their original additive components. Additives like, Nonylphenols, PBDEs, Phthalates, and Bisphenol A (BPA), are added to plastic during production to catalyze monomers into polymers and give it different properties like flexibility, durability and UV resistance. Some of these chemicals are considered hormone-disrupters. These chemicals have the potential to be released from plastics and enter the marine environment. Additives even contaminate the foods they are designed to protect. As an example, BPA has been linked with cancer and “mimics the activity of the endocrine disrupting chemicals. …Significant human exposure to BPA has been documented, and a number of small epidemiological studies have reported a relationship between blood levels of BPA and abnormalities such as miscarriage, ovarian disease, and obesity in humans. These studies were all conducted after similar findings had been reported in animals.”12 New research also demonstrates that plastics absorb, transport, and desorb hydrophobic pollutants. Nonylphenols, PCBs, DDT and DDE are three of the hydrophobic pollutants that are carried or absorbed by plastic particles and released by plastic debris...
We really should spread the word, and cut down on buying/using "use once, then throw away" products - SUSTAINABILITY is the key (and no plastic wrappers around everything...)