People may be breathing in microparticles, health expert warns

People could be breathing in microparticles of plastic, according to a leading environmental health expert, with as yet unknown consequences on health.

Microplastics are known to be damaging to life in the oceans, with marine creatures mistaking them for food, and to be consumed by people eating seafood. But Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London, told MPs investigating the issue that the microparticles could be being inhaled too.

“There is a possibility, a real possibility, that some of those microparticles will be entrained into the air, and they will be carried around and we will end up breathing them,” Kelly told an evidence session of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), adding that his group had just started new research into the issue. “This is a horizon-scanning issue but the particles are of a size that they are [breathable], they are increasing in number in our environment and there is a question to be asked.”

Kelly said the microplastics could enter the air after sewage sludge is spread on fields and dries out. He said a French study had detected the particles in the air.

“If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation, in the same way as we worry about all the other vehicle-related emissions,” he said. The health effect of microplastics, either eaten or breathed in, was just beginning to be looked at, Kelly said.

Evidence submitted to the EAC by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Even for high level consumers of seafoods that are most likely to be relatively highly contaminated with marine microplastics, dietary exposure to microplastic particles is likely to be relatively low compared with inhalation of microplastics.”

Over 10m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans every year and is worn down into trillions of pieces of plastic. Public attention in recent months has focused on one kind of microplastic, called microbeads and used as exfoliants in toiletries such as face washes and toothpastes.

Microbeads make up a small part of the total plastic waste in the seas but campaigners argue they can easily be dealt with by bans, such as the one passed by the US in December, and more than 290,000 people have signed a petition calling for a UK ban. . . .

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian

May 9, 2016


Microbeads to be banned from toothpastes, soaps, and beauty products in the U.S.

Beginning in mid-2017, tiny plastic beads found in some bath and beauty products will be prohibited. The ban, which President Obama signed into law in late December, is aimed at the billions of “microbeads” that some researchers estimate wash down U.S. drains every day, slip through sewage treatment plants and end up being eaten by fish in lakes, rivers and oceans.

“This is huge,” said Julie Lawson, executive director of Trash Free Maryland, an environmental group that helped push through a state ban on microbeads last year. “We’re not trying to get these products off the shelves. We’re trying to get manufacturers to change the way they make them.”

The tiny plastic beads are most often used as mild abrasives to exfoliate skin and strip away dirt and oil. They also put the colorful sparkle in some toothpastes and help fill in wrinkles in some “age-defying” make-up. Congressional researchers say hundreds of products contain microbeads and that a single bottle or tube can have hundreds of thousands of the tiny particles.

Once they wash down drains and reach sewage treatment plants, they can slip through filters that weren’t designed for such small particles and end up discharged into waterways, where they look like tiny eggs. Fish that eat them can suffer problems, researchers say, and end up on dinner plates.

Drinking water drawn from the same waterways with the beads isn’t considered a risk, environmental activists say, because water filtration plants screen out smaller contaminants than sewage treatment facilities.

“They are so small, and there are so many of them,” said George S. Hawkins, general manager of D.C. Water, which provides drinking water in Washington and sewage treatment for the city and surrounding suburbs. “The worry was they’re getting through our systems and into rivers and becoming part of the food chain.”

While there’s been relatively little research into the prevalence of beads in waterways, the problem drew national attention in 2013, after a study found colorful microbeads in the Great Lakes. A 2015 study published in Environmental Science & Technology estimated that, nationwide, 808 billion beads are washed down drains daily. [The volume was enough to coat the surface of 300 tennis courts every day.] Up to 99 percent of those probably settle out at the sewage treatment plant and end up in leftover sludge, those researchers said. However, even the relatively scant numbers that get through treatment plants amount to an estimated 8 billion daily reaching waterways, the study found.

John Hurson, who oversees government affairs for the Personal Care Products Council, said manufacturers can replace the beads with natural materials, such as sand, sugar or ground-up walnut shells. It’s unclear how the change will affect product costs, he said.

He said companies used the plastic beads because they’re safe, non-allergenic and gentle on the skin. But he said some companies, particularly European manufacturers, began discontinuing them voluntarily in the early 2000s, after a late-1990s study raised the possibility that they were getting through sewage treatment facilities.

Hurson said the industry is responsible for a “minuscule portion” of microplastics found in waterways because they also come from clothing fibers, boat paint particles and degrading plastic bags and bottles. Even so, he said, the industry supported environmental groups’ calls for a national standard on microbeads after at least eight states passed similar bans in the past two years.

“It made sense to us to be very supportive of a national phaseout,” Hurson said.

Even with limited scientific data on a relatively new issue, the legislation enjoyed an unusual level of bipartisan support, sailing through Congress with little controversy.

“This is a very strange example of the policy being quicker than the science,” said Chelsea Rochman, one of the researchers on the 2015 study. “But we know enough about microplastics to know they’re a concern for wildlife.”

The federal ban, activists said, goes further than the state laws because it takes effect sooner and doesn’t allow exceptions. It pertains only to microbeads in toothpaste and “rinse-off” products, so it doesn’t cover those in deodorants, lotions or make-up. It also doesn’t affect plastic abrasives in household cleaners.


By Katherine Shaver, Washington Post

8 million metric tonnes of plastic waste are going from the land into the oceans each year

World’s Oceans Clogged by Millions of Tons of Plastic Trash

The magnitude of plastic waste going into the ocean has been calculated: 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans per year which is the equivalent of five grocery bags full of plastic trash on every 30 centimeters (foot) of every nation’s coastline around the globe.  

That’s according to scientists who released research early in 2016 estimating that a staggering 8 million metric tones of plastic pollution enter the oceans each year from the world’s 192 coastal countries based on 2010 data.

THAT’S OVER 21,000 TONS PER DAY! 8 million metric tons of plastic is equal to 16 grocery bags filled with plastic going into the ocean along every metre of coastline in the world (or five grocery bags per foot of coastline).  On our current trajectory, by 2025, this amount could double!

Major contributors are middle income countries with rapidly growing economies that have not developed sufficient waste management systems.

Based on rising waste levels, they estimated that more than 9 million tons would end up in the oceans in 2015.

Experts have sounded the alarm in recent years over how plastic pollution is killing huge numbers of seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and other creatures while sullying ocean ecosystems.

China was responsible for the most ocean plastic pollution per year with an estimated 2.4 million tons, about 30 percent of the global total, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The United States was the only rich industrialized nation in the top 20, and it ranked No. 20. Coastal EU nations combined would rank 18th. [See table below.]

The plastic trash encompasses just about anything imaginable made of plastic including shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers, fishing gear, cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats.

“In short, you name it and it is probably somewhere in the marine environment,” said Kara Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography with the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association.

The estimates were based on information including World Bank data for trash generated per person in all nations with a coastline, coastal population density, the amount of plastic waste countries produce and the quality of their waste-management practices.

“I think this is a wake-up call for how much waste we produce,” said University of Georgia environmental engineering professor Jenna Jambeck.

The researchers calculated that 275 million tons of plastic trash was generated in the 192 coastal countries that year, with an estimated 8 million tons entering the ocean and a possible range between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons.

“The most pressing need is to capture plastic waste to prevent it from entering the environment,” Law said. “This means investing in waste management infrastructure, especially in those countries with rapidly developing economies.”

“In high-income countries, we also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste, especially plastic waste, that we produce,” she added.

The research was published in the journal Science. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler).


World’s Oceans Clogged by Millions of Tons of Plastic Trash

By Will Dunham, Reuters, February 12, 2016



The 192 countries with a coast bordering the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, Mediterranean and Black seas produced a total of 2.5 billion metric tons of solid waste. Of that, 275 million metric tons was plastic, and an estimated 8 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste entered the ocean in 2010. Credit: Lindsay Robinson/UGA

From Science Daily: Magnitude of plastic waste going into the ocean calculated: 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans per year

Summary: How much mismanaged plastic waste is making its way from land to ocean has been a decades-long guessing game. Now scientists have put a number on the global problem. Their study found between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 from people living within 50 kilometers of the coastline.

A plastic grocery bag cartwheels down the beach until a gust of wind spins it into the ocean. In 192 coastal countries, this scenario plays out over and over again as discarded beverage bottles, food wrappers, toys and other bits of plastic make their way from estuaries, seashores and uncontrolled landfills to settle in the world’s seas.

How much mismanaged plastic waste is making its way from land to ocean has been a decades-long guessing game. Now, the University of Georgia’s Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues in the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis working group have put a number on the global problem.

Their study, reported in the Feb. 13 edition of the journal Science, found between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean in 2010 from people living within 50 kilometers of the coastline. That year, a total of 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in those 192 coastal countries.

Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering in the UGA College of Engineering and the study’s lead author, explains the amount of plastic moving from land to ocean each year using 8 million metric tons as the midpoint: “Eight million metric tons is the equivalent to finding five grocery bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the 192 countries we examined.”

To determine the amount of plastic going into the ocean, Jambeck “started it off beautifully with a very grand model of all sources of marine debris,” said study co-author Roland Geyer, an associate professor with the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, who teamed with Jambeck and others to develop the estimates.

They began by looking at all debris entering the ocean from land, sea and other pathways. Their goal was to develop models for each of these sources. After gathering rough estimates, “it fairly quickly emerged that the mismanaged waste and solid waste dispersed was the biggest contributor of all of them,” he said. From there, they focused on plastic.

“For the first time, we’re estimating the amount of plastic that enters the oceans in a given year,” said study co-author Kara Lavender Law, a research professor at the Massachusetts-based Sea Education Association. “Nobody has had a good sense of the size of that problem until now.”

The framework the researchers developed isn’t limited to calculating plastic inputs into the ocean.

“Jenna created a framework to analyze solid waste streams in countries around the world that can easily be adapted by anyone who is interested,” she said. “Plus, it can be used to generate possible solution strategies.”

Plastic pollution in the ocean was first reported in the scientific literature in the early 1970s. In the 40 years since, there were no rigorous estimates of the amount and origin of plastic debris making its way into the marine environment until Jambeck’s current study.

Part of the issue is that plastic is a relatively new problem coupled with a relatively new waste solution. Plastic first appeared on the consumer market in the 1930s and ’40s. Waste management didn’t start developing its current infrastructure in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia until the mid-1970s. Prior to that time, trash was dumped in unstructured landfills–Jambeck has vivid memories of growing up in rural Minnesota, dropping her family’s garbage off at a small dump and watching bears wander through furniture, tires and debris as they looked for food.

“It is incredible how far we have come in environmental engineering, advancing recycling and waste management systems to protect human health and the environment, in a relatively short amount of time,” she said. “However, these protections are unfortunately not available equally throughout the world.”

Some of the 192 countries included in the model have no formal waste management systems, Jambeck said. Solid waste management is typically one of the last urban environmental engineering infrastructure components to be addressed during a country’s development. Clean water and sewage treatment often come first.

“The human impact from not having clean drinking water is acute, with sewage treatment often coming next,” she said. “Those first two needs are addressed before solid waste, because waste doesn’t seem to have any immediate threat to humans. And then solid waste piles up in streets and yards and it’s the thing that gets forgotten for a while.”

As the gross national income increases in these countries, so does the use of plastic. In 2013, the most current numbers available, global plastic resin production reached 299 million tons, a 647 percent increase over numbers recorded in 1975. Plastic resin is used to make many one-use items like wrappers, beverage bottles and plastic bags.

With the mass increase in plastic production, the idea that waste can be contained in a few-acre landfill or dealt with later is no longer viable. That was the mindset before the onslaught of plastic, when most people piled their waste–glass, food scraps, broken pottery–on a corner of their land or burned or buried it. Now, the average American generates about 5 pounds of trash per day with 13% of that being plastic.

But knowing how much plastic is going into the ocean is just one part of the puzzle, Jambeck said. With between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons going in, researchers like Law are only finding between 6,350 and 245,000 metric tons floating on the ocean’s surface.

“This paper gives us a sense of just how much we’re missing,” Law said, “how much we need to find in the ocean to get to the total. Right now, we’re mainly collecting numbers on plastic that floats. There is a lot of plastic sitting on the bottom of the ocean and on beaches worldwide.”

Jambeck forecasts that the cumulative impact to the oceans will equal 155 million metric tons by 2025. The planet is not predicted to reach global “peak waste” before 2100, according to World Bank calculations.

“We’re being overwhelmed by our waste,” she said. “But our framework allows us to also examine mitigation strategies like improving global solid waste management and reducing plastic in the waste stream. Potential solutions will need to coordinate local and global efforts.”

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by the University of Georgia. The original item was written by Stephanie Schupska. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T. R. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law. Plastic waste inputs from land into the oceanScience, 2015; 347 (6223): 768 DOI:10.1126/science.1260352

Cite this page:

University of Georgia. “Magnitude of plastic waste going into the ocean calculated: 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans per year.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2015.


Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean

Jenna R. Jambeck,Roland Geyer,2 Chris Wilcox,3 Theodore R. Siegler,4 Miriam Perryman,1 Anthony Andrady,5 Ramani Narayan,6 Kara Lavender Law7


More than 5 trillion plastic pieces afloat at sea

In a 2014 study, it was estimated that AT LEAST 5.25 TRILLION PLASTIC PIECES, WEIGHING 269,000 METRIC TONS ARE CURRENTLY FLOATING AT SEA and that:

  • 92% is comprised of small fragments (0.33-4.75 mm).
  • Of larger items (>200mm), foamed polystyrene items were the most frequently observed.
  • During fragmentation plastics are lost from the sea surface.

This does not include the massive amount of plastic that sinks (extremely difficult to determine because of the huge depths of the ocean), washes up on beaches and seashores, or has been ingested by organisms.

German beer found to be contaminated with microplastic

New research has revealed the extent to which German beer may be contaminated by foreign substances, most notably, microplastics.

The research, published this month in Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A, analysed 24 beer samples from local supermarkets and included both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer. Contamination was found in all cases. Defining microplastics as ‘fibres, films, fragments or granular particles smaller than 5 mm in size and made of synthetic polymers’, the authors found that regular tap water may also be subject to this contamination.

Though contamination was found in all instances, it was not possible to establish any one microplastic as being more dominant than the others. Indeed, the contributions ranged from 5% to 71% for granular material, from 14% to 87% for fragments and from 3% to 57% for fibres and varied depending on the brand of the beer.

The study also indicated that the contamination wasn’t just caused by microplastics, indeed one beer sample even contained an almost complete insect belonging to the Order Thysanoptera. Moreover, three samples revealed glass shards of up to about 600 μm size.

The authors of the article, Gerd Liebezeit & Elisabeth Liebezeit, conclude their research by suggesting possible causes for the contamination, citing the materials used in the production process and the clothes and skin of brewery workers as likely sources.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Taylor & FrancisNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Gerd Liebezeit, Elisabeth Liebezeit. Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beersFood Additives & Contaminants: Part A, 2014; 31 (9): 1574 DOI: 10.1080/19440049.2014.945099

Cite This Page:

Taylor & Francis. “How much may German beers be contaminated by microplastics?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 September 2014. <>.