Microplastics found in human stools for the first time in Austrian study

Study suggests microplastics may be widespread in the human food chain.

Microplastics have been found in human stools for the first time, according to a study suggesting the tiny particles may be widespread in the human food chain. The small study examined eight participants from Europe, Japan and Russia. All of their stool samples were found to contain microplastic particles.

Up to nine different plastics were found out of 10 varieties tested for, in particles of sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometres. Polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate were the plastics most commonly found. On average, 20 particles of microplastic were found in each 10g of excreta. Microplastics are defined as particles of less than 5mm, with some created for use in products such as cosmetics but also by the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic, often in the sea.

Based on this study, the authors estimated that “more than 50% of the world population might have microplastics in their stools”, though they stressed the need for larger-scale studies to confirm this.

The Environment Agency Austria conducted the tests using a new procedure the researchers said shed fresh light on the extent of microplastics in the food chain. Samples from the eight subjects were sent to a laboratory in Vienna where they were analysed using a Fourier-transform infrared microspectrometer.

Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who led the study, said: “This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases.”

Previous studies on fish have also found plastics in the gut. Microplastics have been found in bottled water and tap water around the world, in the oceans and in flying insects.  A recent investigation in Italy also found microplastics present in soft drinks. In birds, the ingestion of plastic has been found to remodel the tiny fingerlike projections inside the small intestine, disrupt iron absorption and add to stress on the liver.

“The smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver,” said Schwabl, who will report on the study at UEG Week in Vienna on Tuesday. “Now that we have the first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”

Plastic particles in the gut could affect the digestive system’s immune response or could aid the transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens, the researchers said.

The sources of the plastic found in the stool samples is unknown. The people studied kept a food diary that showed they were all exposed to plastics by consuming food wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. None of those participating in the study were vegetarians, and six of the group ate sea fish.

Scientists still know little about the effects of microplastics once they enter the human body, though many studies have already found them present in foods such as fish that people are likely to eat. The UK government has launched a study of health impacts. . .

 

By Fiona Harvey and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian

October 22, 2018

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/22/microplastics-found-in-human-stools-for-the-first-time?CMP=fb_gu&fbclid=IwAR3Eep-zHg5r5s_XSIsbu7CWm838z-VJdADjwioQ8GqhughR4_J2SaWopHo

Microplastics found in Industrial Soft Drinks

In Italy, the first analysis carried out by Il Salvantente found microplastics in industrial soft drinks.

We live immersed in plastic. It can be found everywhere; we see it in the seas, dragged by the waters of our rivers, even scattered on mountain peaks or in the countryside that we still consider uncontaminated… Now we are beginning to realize that we eat and drink it. And we can do very little about that, if things do not change. In fact, what comes from our food, spices, water and, as shown by the first analysis carried out by Il Salvagente on 18 industrial beverages, from cola to orangeade, from lemonade to iced tea, we cannot see it with the naked eye nor can we avoid it.

The danger, in this case, has a specific name and a scientific definition, even though researchers and analysts have only recently started to look into it, and a level of risk that is still largely unknown. It is called microplastics, this is the definition of solid particles that are insoluble in water, even with dimensions that are much smaller than 5 millimetres. So small it is hardly distinguishable and perhaps for this very reason just as, if not more, insidious than the larger fragments from which it comes. Which, needless to say, are the most commonly used polymers, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyamide, polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinylchloride, acrylic, polymethyl acrylate.

For some years now, those who look for it, regardless of what they are analyzing, find it. It is found in the fish fillets we consume, where they accumulate in incredible quantities, in seafood, in sea salt, in bottled waterin water (from rivers and taps, even in mineral water). It is even present in products like honey.

It is inevitable, therefore, that it would also be detectable in the soft drinks that the monthly consumer guide magazine sent to the Maurizi Group laboratories. If anything, it is hardly surprising that none of the kinds of tea, cola, lemonade, orangeade, or tonic water under analysis were saved.

Microplastics are served (at the table and in your glass)

Seven Up, Pepsi, San Benedetto, Schweppes, Beltè, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite are just some of the brands to end up under the microscope and – with a slight surprise – all gave an unambiguous response: the presence of microplastics has not spared any product, all 18 bottles were found to be contaminated, with values that ranged from a minimum of 0.89 mpp/l (microparticles per litre) to a maximum of 18.89 mpp/l.

. . .

A ‘vehicle’ for poisons

Seen from Brussels, for example, the question of plastic particles that we ingest is not considered as so worrying: “According to current knowledge, it is unlikely that ingestion of microplastics ‘per se’ is an objective risk to human health”, writes the European Union.

Seen from Helsinki, from the headquarters of the European Chemical Agency (the ECA), the perspective is different. “Some of the additives or organic contaminants that are added to plastics can be toxic”, the agency stated in black and white in a document a few months ago. And it is not just Finnish scientists to be concerned about this. There are numerous studies – all very recent, seeing that the issue is relatively new – that show how microplastics can become a convenient ‘vehicle’ for toxic substances, concentrating and transporting pollutants such as bisphenol, some phthalates, pesticides and other carcinogenic molecules as well as interfering with the endocrine system.

And it is not just the dangers of the substances added in the processing of plastic, but also of those that it collects as it travels during its long life. According to the French agency Centre national de la recherche scientifique, particles of less than 5 millimetres have the capacity to “bind to organic pollutants in the environment such as PCBs, dioxins or PAHs” and pathogenic microorganisms. There are not sufficient studies to quantify the impact on humans, but the risk is already evident: ingesting particles that are invisible to the naked eye that, once in our organism, release their load of poisons.  “We don’t want to find ourselves in the same dramatic situation as we did with asbestos”, Matteo Fago explains, “a material considered safe and inert for many years before it was discovered, too late, how serious and extensive the damage it had produced on human beings was.”

September 26, 2018

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://ilsalvagente.it/2018/09/26/in-italy-the-first-analysis-carried-out-by-il-salvagente-find-microplastics-in-industrial-soft-drink/

 

 

Plastic pollution: How one woman found a new source of methane gas hidden in plastic waste

Young researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer set out to measure methane gas coming from biological activity in sea water.  Instead, in a “happy accident” she found that the plastic bottles holding the samples were a bigger source of this powerful warming molecule than the bugs in the water.  Now she’s published further details in a study into the potential warming impact of gases seeping from plastic waste.

“It was a totally unexpected discovery,” Dr Royer told BBC News. “Some members of the lab were experimenting with high density polyethylene bottles looking at methane biological production, but the concentrations were much higher than expected. So we realised that the emissions were not just coming from the biology but from the bottle that we were using for the experiment.”

After graduating from university in Barcelona, Dr Royer found herself in Hawaii, leading teams of volunteers who were helping to remove plastic from beaches at weekends, while working on the chemistry of the substance during the week.

on the beach         Image copyright OLIVIER POIRION

Now she’s published her report after spending a year and a half testing different types of plastic in and out of seawater to see if they emit methane and ethylene, which both contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Dr Royer found that the most widely-used plastic, the stuff used to make shopping bags, is the one that produces the greatest amount of these warming gases.

At the end of the study, after 212 days in the sun, this plastic emitted 176 times more methane than at the start of the experiment.

Ironically, when plastics were exposed to air the amount of methane emitted was double the level from sea water.

What’s causing these emissions?

In short it’s the Sun. Solar radiation acts on the surface of plastic waste. As it breaks down, becomes cracked and pitted, these defects increase the surface area of plastic available to sunlight which accelerates gas production. Even in the dark, the gas continues to seep out.

“I’m in the field every week,” said Dr Royer.  “When I touch a piece of plastic, if there’s a little impact on that plastic it’s degrading into hundred of pieces pretty much as we look at it.”

plastic waste         Image copyright SARAH-JEANNE ROYER
 Image caption Plastic waste washed up in a Hawaiian bay

Is this a big deal?

Up to now, the link between plastics and climate change was mainly focussed on the use of fossil fuels like oil and gas in the manufacture of plastic items.

It’s also known that when plastics degrade in the environment, they release CO2. Experts have welcomed this report as it is the first time that anyone has tried to quantify other warming gases emerging from plastic waste.

“Low density polyethylene (LDPE) does emit ethylene, methane and propane, even at low temperatures that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” Prof Ashwani Gupta from the University of Maryland, who was not involved in the study, told BBC News.

“It is nice to see some quantified emissions on greenhouse gases for the selected polyethylene. The results clearly show variation in gas emission levels among the different polyethylene sources.”

plastic          Image copyright SARAH-JEANN ROYER

While the amounts of methane and ethylene being produced right now from plastics are very small, Dr Royer is concerned about the future and the fact that as plastic breaks down, more surface area is exposed, increasing the amount of the gases that drifts into the atmosphere.

“If we look at all the plastic produced since 1950, it’s pretty much all still on the planet, and it’s just degrading into smaller and smaller pieces, so we know the industry is booming and in the next 30 years and more and more greenhouse gases will be produced – that’s a big thing.”

What have the plastics industry said?

Nothing much at this point. According to Dr Royer, when she approached companies in the field, they weren’t keen on talking about it.

“I told them I was a scientist and I was trying to understand the chemistry of the plastic,” she said. “I was trying to order some plastics of different densities and I was asking questions about the process and they all said we don’t want to have contact with you anymore. I think the plastic industry absolutely knows, and they don’t want this to be shared with the world.”

How have other scientists reacted?

“Research on plastic waste is revealing it to be a disturbing pandora’s box,” said Dr Montserrat Filella, a chemist at the University of Geneva.

“As research expands our knowledge, we are realising that plastics can be insidious in many other ways. For instance, as vectors of ‘hidden pollutants’, such as heavy metals present in them or, now, as a source of greenhouse gases. And, in all cases, throughout the entire lifetime of the plastic.”

plastic         Image copyright SARAH-JEANNE ROYER
 Image caption Plastic debris from the tsunami in Japan is still causing problems in Hawaii

Others agreed that further research was urgently needed.

“No one knows how much methane and ethylene are being released from these sources. We don’t know if it is adding significant amounts of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere,” said Dr Jennifer Lynch, a marine environment expert from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist).

“It’s another consequence of the use of plastics and it needs further examination.”

 

August 2, 2018

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45043989?SThisFB&fbclid=IwAR2PPafrNBIg_V2Zual3IjO6ApYyMsr32rISZnRByZarz96D2tUhyVFkMaI

 

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in the majority of snow and ice samples taken earlier this year in Antarctica, one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new study.

Researchers spent three months taking water and snow samples from remote areas of Antarctica earlier this year. These have now been analysed and researchers have confirmed the majority contained “persistent hazardous chemicals” or microplastics.

The findings come amid growing concern about the extent of the plastic pollution crisis which scientists have warned risks “permanent contamination” of the planet.

Thilo Maack takes snow samples on Greenwich Island in the Antarctic to test for environmental pollutants.

 Thilo Maack takes snow samples on Greenwich Island in the Antarctic to test for environmental pollutants. Photograph: Paul Hilton/Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

. . . The new report by researchers at Greenpeace is part of global campaign to create the world’s biggest ocean sanctuary in the seas around Antarctica to protect the fragile ecosystem from industrial fishing and climate change.

Frida Bengtsson, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said the findings proved that even the most remote areas of the planet were not immune from the impact of manmade pollution.  “We need action at source, to stop these pollutants ending up in the Antarctic in the first place, and we need an Antarctic ocean sanctuary to give space for penguins, whales and the entire ecosystem to recover from the pressures they’re facing,” she said.

Seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained microplastics such as microfibres. Seven of the nine snow samples tested contained detectable concentrations of the persistent hazardous chemicals – polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFAS.  Researchers said the chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife. They said the snow samples gathered included freshly fallen snow, suggesting the hazardous chemicals had come from contaminated rain or snowfall.

Prof Alex Rogers, a specialist in sustainable oceans at the Oxford Martin school, Oxford University, said the discovery of plastics and chemicals in Antarctica confirmed that man-made pollutants were now affecting ecosystems in every corner of the world.  And he warned the consequences of this pervasive contamination remained largely unknown.  “The big question now is what are the actual consequences of finding this stuff here? Many of these chemicals are pretty nasty and as they move up the food chain they may be having serious consequences for the health of wildlife, and ultimately humans. The effects of microplastics on marine life, likewise, are largely not understood,” he said.

The samples were collected during a three-month expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, from January to March 2018.
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The samples were collected during a three-month expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, from January to March 2018. Photograph: Christian Åslund/Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

Bengtsson said: “Plastic has now been found in all corners of our oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and at the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana trench. We need urgent action to reduce the flow of plastic into our seas and we need large-scale marine reserves – like a huge Antarctic ocean sanctuary which over 1.6m people are calling for – to protect marine life and our oceans for future generations.”

The samples were gathered during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic from January to March 2018. The Guardian joined the trip for two weeks in February.

A decision on the sanctuary proposal, which is being put forward by the EU and supported by environmental campaign groups around the world, will be taken at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission in Tasmania in October.

By Matthew Taylor, The Guardian

June 6, 2018

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/06/antarctica-plastic-contamination-reaches-earths-last-wilderness

 

Plastic Bag Found at the Bottom of the Mariana Trench – the World’s Deepest Ocean Trench

THE MARIANA TRENCH—THE deepest point in the ocean—extends nearly 36,000 feet (10,989 meters) down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, but it has not escaped from the global onslaught of plastic pollution.  A recent study revealed that a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores, is now the deepest known piece of plastic trash.  The discovery is one of 3,000 pieces of man-made debris dating back 30 years.

Scientists found it by looking through the Deep-Sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from 5,010 dives from numerous international teams working around the world over the past 30 years and using deep-sea remote vehicles to help study the ocean beds to discover what lies beneath.

Of the classifiable debris logged in the database, plastic was the most prevalent, and plastic bags in particular made up the greatest source of plastic trash. Other debris came from material like rubber, metal, wood, and cloth, and some is yet to be classified.

Most of the plastic—a whopping 89 percent—was the type of plastic that is used once and then thrown away, like a plastic water bottle or disposable utensil.

While the Mariana Trench may seem like a dark, lifeless pit, it hosts more life than you might think. NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer vessel searched the region’s depths in 2016 and found diverse life-forms, including species like coral, jellyfish, and octopus. The recent study also found that 17 percent of the images of plastic logged in the database showed interactions of some kind with marine life, like animals becoming entangled in the debris.

The new study is just one among many showing just how prevalent plastic pollution has become worldwide. Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take hundreds of years or more to break down once in the wild.

Last February, a separate study showed that the Mariana Trench has higher levels of overall pollution in certain regions than some of the most polluted rivers in China. The study’s authors theorized that the chemical pollutants in the trench may have come in part from the breakdown of plastic in the water column. . . .

 

By Sarah Gibbons, National Geographic

May 11, 2018

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/plastic-bag-mariana-trench-pollution-science-spd/

Additional information from: The Telegraph

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/09/worlds-deepest-plastic-bag-found-bottom-mariana-trench-highlighting/ May 10, 2018

 

See also:

Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica

https://oceanchampions.ca/1563-2/ ‎

 

Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastic frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments.

Analysis of ice cores from across the Arctic region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought.  Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals.

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean ( Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Rüdiger Stein )

Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study.

“Nowhere is immune.”

AWI scientist Julia Gutermann analysing an Arctic sea ice core for microplastic particles in a lab at the AWI Helgoland (Tristan Vankann)

Dr Peeken and her team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research collected ice core samples over the course of three expeditions on the research icebreaker Polarstern.  Their voyages covered five regions along the Transpolar Drift and Fram Strait, which channel sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Not only is polar sea ice acting as a store for ocean plastic that could potentially be released as global temperatures get warmer due to climate change, the movement of sea ice could be depositing microplastics in areas that were previously plastic-free.

The researchers analysed their samples using a device known as a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.  This enabled them to examine the ice cores layer by layer and in great detail, working out the origins of even the tiniest shards of plastic.

“What is interesting also is you have very localised sources – ship paint particles and cigarette butts and stuff like that,” said Dr Peeken. “We also see polyethylene, a very light polymer which is found in really high numbers particularly in the Central Arctic. We think that there is an incoming flow from the Pacific so that could show that is coming from that region.

“We see a large impact of plastic pollution coming from the urban areas – a lot is coming from the Atlantic and from the Pacific.”

In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists speculate that this polyethylene could originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre. . . .

In ice cores collected in Siberia, the predominant forms of microplastic included paint particles from ships and nylon waste from fishing nets.

Over half the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, meaning they could easily be ingested by small Arctic creatures.

“While we don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of microplastics on the health of the marine environment or humans, the growing body of evidence suggests microplastic pollution is a contaminant of environmental and economic concern,” said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.

“As microplastics can look like prey for marine animals and are small in size they may be eaten by a wide range of species, from zooplankton – small animals at the base of the food web –  to seabird and whales, potentially impacting marine ecosystems and the food chain.”

Other scientists welcomed the research as “a benchmark study” that demonstrated the extent to which plastics both big and small have covered the world.  However, given the scale of the global plastic crisis, they said its conclusions did not come as a surprise.

Professor Richard Thompson, an ocean plastic researcher at the University of Plymouth who first coined the use of the term microplastics, said this study builds on work he conducted to establish their concentration in Arctic ice.  “The study reinforces what is already clear to many marine scientists – that plastic debris is a highly persistent form of contamination that can accumulate in considerable concentrations even in remote locations far from the likely points of entry to the ocean. What is increasingly clear is the urgency with which we need to take steps to halt the flow of plastic debris to the ocean.

“A key priority in my view is interdisciplinary research focused on delivering appropriate evidence to inform industry and policy on the most appropriate solutions.”

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

April 14, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-pollution-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics-ocean-environment-a8319951.html

Humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic and 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste

Most plastic waste has already made its way to landfills and oceans.

Plastic is in almost everything we use. Now researchers have calculated the staggering amount of the synthetic material humans have produced since large-scale production began in the 1950s: 8.3 billion tonnes.

More disturbing, the researchers say, is the amount of plastic waste that humans have produced. Of the 8.3 billion tonnes we’ve made since 1950, 6.3 billion of that has already become waste.

“We expected the numbers to be large, but somehow we were surprised at how large they are,” Roland Geyer, lead author of the study and associate professor in environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told CBC News.

“Even for people like me who do these kinds of material flow analyses for a living, these are enormous quantities.”

The number that shocks him the most, however, is the rapid increase in production.

“Of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of virgin plastics ever made, half was made just in the last 13 years,” Geyer said. “Between 2004 and 2015 we made as much plastic as we made between 1950 and 2004.”

Choking our ecosystems

The same team responsible for this study was behind a 2015 study that found somewhere between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic from people living within 50 kilometres of coastlines had made its way into our oceans.
“Our estimate of eight million metric tonnes going into the oceans in 2010 is equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-author of both studies, in a statement at the time. “This annual input increases each year, so our estimate for 2015 is about 9.1 million metric tons,” she said.

“In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 input, or 10 bags full of plastic per foot of coastline,” she said. “So the cumulative input by 2025 would equal 155 million metric tonnes.”

A recent study found evidence that plastic was making its way into the Arctic Ocean.

“Most humans live in temperate regions and towards equatorial regions, and yet our pollution is not staying in those kind of geographical bounds — they’re moving beyond into these remote regions,” Jennifer Provencher, a post-doctoral researcher at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., told CBC News in May.

There have been several studies on how plastic waste is harming wildlife, with a focus on sea birds.

  This albatross’s gut is full of plastic. Photo: Chris Jordan

“I’m very concerned,” Geyer said of plastic in the ocean. “But in a way I’m equally concerned with plastics in terrestrial ecosystems. We don’t even really study the effects of plastics in terrestrial ecosystems. I’m worried that there could be all kinds of unintended adverse environmental consequences.”

Plethora of packaging

“We have to be really mindful of plastics,” Geyer said. “I’m having the exact same struggle and challenges everyone else has. You come home from the supermarket and you’re just amazed at how much packaging there is together with the produce and the food.”

  Most things we buy at the supermarket come in plastic packaging (CBC)

While we may be more aware of plastic packaging, the use of plastic fibres in clothing like nylons and fleece has also grown. Between 1950 and 2015, it accounted for one billion tonnes of plastic.

The key, Geyer said, is to ask yourself if you need to buy a product with so much plastic. He notes that some companies like clothing company Patagonia and Mountain Equipment Coop are trying to reduce the amount of plastic in their products. Being mindful in your purchasing habits is key.

“It’s something as a society we collectively have to have a good think about,” Geyer said. “There’s a way to reduce and still have the same services and quality of life. And that would definitely be a simple way to address plastic waste generation; if we just make less in the first place.”

Featured image: Humans have created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, of which 6.3 billion tonnes has already become waste, a new study says. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SOURCE:

Humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, researchers say

By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News, 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/humans-produce-billions-tonnes-plastic-1.4210279

Samples collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch may be 16 times as massive than previously thought

A new study involving scientists from around the world estimates there are more than 79,000 tonnes of ocean plastic in a 1.6 million square kilometre area of the North Pacific Ocean, commonly referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic.

The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.

79,000 tons is “the equivalent to the mass of more than 6,500 school buses.” Helen Thompson, Science News

The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre.

While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.

   

Fishing nets and ropes make up 47% of the plastic mass in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a new study suggests. Photo: NOAA  A sea turtle entangled in a ghost net. Photo by Francis Perez

“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch. “There were things you just wondered how they made it into the ocean. There’s clearly an increasing influx of plastic into the garbage patch.”

 

Particles smaller than half a centimeter, called microplastics, account for 94% of the pieces, but only 8% of the overall mass. In contrast, large (5 to 50 centimeters) and extra-large (bigger than 50 centimeters) pieces made up 25% and 53% of the estimated patch mass.  Much of the plastic in the patch comes from humans’ ocean activities, such as fishing and shipping, the researchers found. Almost half of the total mass, for example, is from discarded fishing nets. A lot of that litter contains especially durable plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, which are designed to survive in marine environments.  Helen Thompson, Science News

“We need a coordinated international effort to rethink and redesign the way we use plastics. The numbers speak for themselves. Things are getting worse and we need to act now.”

 

. . . The problem of plastic pollution is gaining traction in diplomatic circles, with nearly 200 countries signing on to a UN resolution last year that aims to stem the flood of plastic into the oceans. However, the agreement has no timetable and is not legally binding.

Dr Clare Steele, a California-based marine ecologist who was not involved in the research, said the study provided “great progress” in understanding the composition of the Great Pacific garbage patch.

But she regretted that while removing larger items, such as ghost fishing nets, would help wildlife, the clean-up would not deal with the colossal amount of microplastic.

“Those plankton-sized pieces of plastic are pretty difficult to clean up,” she said. “The only way is to address the source and that will require a radical shift on how we use materials, particularly single-use plastic such as cutlery, straws and bottles that are so durable.

“We need to reduce waste and come up with new, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. But one of the easiest steps is changing the way we use and discard the more ephemeral plastic products.”

Cleanup efforts

And while Eriksen supports initiatives like The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, which plans to use nets to collect ocean plastic, he says that’s not a solution by itself.

“I applaud them for going after the big stuff in the middle of the ocean. That’s great,” he said. “We need to keep those nets from shredding into microplastics. But it’s disingenuous to say you’re cleaning the oceans when you’re doing nothing to stop the flow of trash at land and sea.”

Eriksen said that what’s needed is a wide-scale effort beginning at the source.

“Policy has to have [manufacturers] clean up their act,” he said. “And make smarter products and think of the full life cycle; stop making something that, when it becomes waste, becomes a nightmare for everyone.”

Both Lebreton and Eriksen would like to see less single-use plastic as well as a focus on cleaning up beaches and shores, before it makes its ways into our oceans.

“We’ve created a monster with plastic,” Lebreton said. “This [study] shows the urgency of the situation and shows that we need to act quickly.”

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 16 times bigger than previously estimated, study finds

Sample collected during 2015 expedition was mostly microplastics less than 0.5 cm in diameter

By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News, March 22, 2018

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/great-pacific-garbage-patch-1.4582626

 

Microplastics found in 93% of bottled water tested in global study

The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly $200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with microplastics, tiny particles of plastic.

“Our love affair with making single-use disposable plastics out of a material that lasts for literally centuries — that’s a disconnect, and I think we need to rethink our relationship with that,” says Prof. Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher who carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York (SUNY).

The research was conducted on behalf of Orb Media, a U.S-based non-profit journalism organization with which CBC News has partnered.

… Mason’s team tested 259 bottles of water purchased in nine countries (none were bought in Canada). Though many brands are sold internationally, the water source, manufacturing and bottling process for the same brand can differ by country.The 11 brands tested include the world’s dominant players — Nestle Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, San Pellegrino and Gerolsteiner — as well as major national brands across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Researchers found 93% of all bottles tested contained some sort of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

10.4 particles/litre on average

Microplastics (anything smaller than five millimetres in size) are the result of the breakdown of all the plastic waste that makes its way into landfills and oceans. They are also manufactured intentionally, as microbeads used in skin care products. Microbeads [in cosmetics] are now being phased out in Canada, after significant numbers began to appear in the Great Lakes and the tiny particles were found filling the stomachs of fish.

  Scientists used Nile Red fluorescent tagging, an emerging method for the rapid identification of microplastics, as the dye binds to plastic. Scientists put the dyed water through a filter and then viewed samples under a microscope. (Orb Media) 

… Orb found on average there were 10.4 particles of plastic per litre that were 100 microns (0.10 mm) or bigger. This is double the level of microplastics in the tap water tested from more than a dozen countries across five continents, examined in a 2017 study by Orb that looked at similar-sized plastics.

Other, smaller particles were also discovered — 314 of them per litre, on average — which some of the experts consulted about the Orb study believe are plastics but cannot definitively identify.

The amount of particles varied from bottle to bottle: while some contained one, others contained thousands.

The purpose of the study was to establish the presence of the plastics in bottled water.

It’s unclear what the effect of microplastics is on human health, and no previous work has established a maximum safe level of consumption. There are no rules or standards for allowable limits of microplastics in bottled water in Canada, the United States and Europe. Rules and standards for other countries from the study are not known.

Two brands — Nestle and Gerolsteiner — confirmed their own testing showed their water contained microplastics, albeit at much lower levels than what Orb Media is reporting.

The water tested was purchased in the U.S., Kenya, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Mexico and Thailand, and represented a range of brands across several continents. It was shipped to the specialized lab at SUNY in Fredonia, N.Y.

Emerging science

Plastics are present nearly everywhere and can take hundreds of years to degrade, if at all. Many types only continue to break down into smaller and smaller particles, until they are not visible to the naked eye.

Plastics have also been known to act like a sponge, and can absorb and release chemicals that could be harmful if consumed by mammals and fish.

“It’s not straightforward,” said Prof. Max Liboiron of Memorial University in St John’s. “If you’ve ever had chili or spaghetti and you put it in Tupperware, and you can’t scrub the orange colour out, that’s a manifestation of how plastics absorb oily chemicals,” says Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), which monitors plastic pollution.

The European Food Safety Authority suggests most microplastics will be excreted by the body. But the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has raised concerns about the possibility some particles could be small enough to pass into the bloodstream and organs.

It’s not clear how the plastic is getting into the bottled water — whether it’s the water source itself or the air or the manufacturing and bottling process.  “Even the simple act of opening the cap could cause plastic to be chipping off the cap,” Mason said.

  Prof. Sherri Mason carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York (SUNY), on behalf of Orb Media. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

… There are no rules or standards for allowable limits of microplastics in bottled water in Canada, the United States and Europe. Rules and standards for other countries from the study are not known.
FEATURED IMAGE:
Microplastics are the result of the breakdown of all the plastic waste that makes its way into landfills and oceans. The purpose of the study was to establish the presence of the plastics in bottled water. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)
READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Microplastics found in supermarket fish, shellfish

Researchers say it’s too soon to say what impact this has on food safety

Brandie Weikle, CBC News, 

 

SEE ALSO:

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 plastic particles every year

 

This plastic bottle is one of the many items of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean along with huge amounts of microplastic

15-Year Study Indicates Huge Increase in Pacific Ocean Microplastic

Results show rapid increase in microplastic in the oceans.

Charles Moore, who first sailed the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, has returned five times over 15 years to document the concentrations of plastic in the ocean.  His results show microplastics are accumulating at a rapid rate.

In 1997, sailboat captain Charles Moore sailed from Hawaii across the Pacific Ocean, taking a shortcut to his home port of Los Angeles after a sailing race. As he cut across the then-seldom-sailed stretch of ocean – the swirling North Pacific Gyre – he came upon an enormous accumulation of plastic trash and made it famous. He helped captured the public’s imagination around the problem of marine plastic pollution by writing about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

In February, two decades after his discovery, he reported a seemingly dramatic 60-fold increase in the tiny pieces of microplastic during his 15 years of study of the now-infamous ocean area. From 1999 to 2014, he and a team of researchers regularly returned to 11 sites across this area with Algalita, the nonprofit he founded, scooping up plastic samples using a manta trawl from Moore’s research catamaran in an attempt to quantify change in plastic over time.

His findings, he said in a press conference at the American Geophysical Union’s 2018 Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland, Oregon, show that the tiny pieces of microplastic floating on the surface of the North Pacific Gyre have increased from 331,809 pieces per square kilometer counted in 1999 to 19,912,037 counted in 2014. This estimate is unique as there are no long-term studies documenting microplastic concentration increases in the North Pacific Gyre. That’s because scientists need an enormous number of samples to come to any conclusion about how concentrations change over time.

     

Moore’s research ship, Alguita, returns with these samples after four months in the North Pacific Ocean. Algalita Marine Research and Education has been studying ocean plastic pollution since 1999. Long Beach, CA, USA. (Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

However, there is also plenty of uncertainty in making these kinds of estimates. The center of the North Pacific’s swirling mass of water, which holds the highest plastic concentration, appears to be shifting over time, making accurate sampling more challenging. At the meeting, Moore clicked through slides of the North Pacific Gyre, modeled by Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner at the University of Hawaii. The slides showed that the large gyre has a concentrated center that has shifted over time closer to the California coast.

“The gyre is not a static place and what our hypothesis is … was the amount of plastic sampled depends on how far it is from the moving center of the Garbage Patch,” Moore said. The results of his research will be published later this year.

While the North Pacific Gyre is commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” now Moore and other scientists like to describe the area instead as a soup filled with various-sized pieces of plastic debris. Although the patch is certainly enormous, its exact size is difficult to pinpoint because it is always shifting between the coasts of Hawaii and California, with a highly concentrated center that moves seasonally and over time with changing ocean conditions.

When making their calculations about the amount of plastic in the gyre, Maximenko and Hafner developed models that helped correct variability in ocean conditions due to currents, winds and waves. These factors can push plastic pieces down temporarily beneath the surface where they aren’t scooped up by researchers’ plastic trawling equipment, which only skims the ocean’s surface. Even when using these models, the amount of plastic still increased by a significant amount, Moore said.

Marcus Eriksen, marine plastic researcher and co-founder of ocean conservation organization 5 Gyres, said that while Moore’s study is an interesting analysis, he questions how accurate it could be because of how many plastic samples are needed to draw a conclusion about trends. In 2014, using the same trawl-sampling techniques as Moore, Eriksen co-authored a study estimating that globally at least 5.25 trillion plastic pieces are floating at or near the ocean’s surface – with nearly two trillion in the North Pacific Ocean alone. Moore, citing his data, believes that study’s estimates for the North Pacific numbers may be an underestimate.

“In my experience, if you sample the same spot one hour later, you’ll likely find a significant difference in plastic count and weight,” said Eriksen. “While the authors are probably correct about an increasing trend – and it is also difficult to understand the influence of the 2011 Japan tsunami event – we need more samples over time to really understand what’s going on.”

Moore acknowledges the variability in sampling for plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, and agrees on a need for more samples. But he emphasized that what’s certain is that the amount of plastic in the oceans, particularly microplastic, is increasing as humans increase their production of the material.

“Our plastic production will triple by 2050 and that’s when it’s predicted to be half-plastic, half-fish in the ocean” by weight, said Moore, citing a plastic impact estimate published by the World Economic Forum. “But we’re continuing to extract more and more fish, we’re making more and more fish sick, we’re catching more and more fish in ghost nets … so the estimate of half-plastic, half-fish by 2050 may be optimistic.”

SOURCE:

15-Year Study Indicates Huge Increase in Pacific Ocean Microplastics

By Erica Cirino, News Deeply – Oceans Deeply, February 13, 2018

 

 

Microplastics ‘pose major threat’ to whales and sharks, scientists warn

The oceans’ largest creatures are eating large quantities of plastic fragments and other microplastics, exposing them to toxic chemicals.

Even the largest marine creatures are vulnerable to tiny fragments of plastic littering the world’s oceans. A new study has found whales and whale sharks – the largest fish in the world – are ingesting microplastics in alarming quantities.

These creatures are filter feeders, meaning they consume large quantities of small prey by straining them out of the ocean water.  In the process, they swallow hundreds to thousands of cubic metres of water daily, meaning there is the potential for them to take in substantial amounts of microplastic floating in the water.

 Whale sharks are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day, according to new research
 Whale sharks are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day, according to new research ( Getty )

“Our studies on whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and on fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea confirmed exposure to toxic chemicals, indicating that these filter feeders are taking up microplastics in their feeding grounds,” said Professor Maria Cristina Fossi of the University of Siena.

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. Some microplastics are manufactured, such as the microbeads added to health and beauty products, while others are the result of larger plastics gradually breaking down.  These plastics are pervasive in marine environments, and they are known to harbour toxic substances such as heavy metals and phthalates.

Since many animals are known to eat microplastics, scientists are concerned about the toxic substances contained within them, as well as their capacity to accumulate within the animals and stop them from absorbing nutrients correctly. “Exposure to these plastic-associated toxins pose a major threat to the health of these animals since it can alter the hormones, which regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive functions, among other things,” said Professor Fossi.

The study was published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

. . . While scientists agree that plastic pollution is a problem for marine animals, there is still a lot they do not know about the magnitude of its impact.

“Despite the growing research on microplastics in the marine environment, there are only few studies that examine the effects on large filter feeders,” said Elitza Germanov, a researcher at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and lead author of the study.

Assessing plastic in the diets of large animals such as whales and whale sharks is difficult, as it relies on analysis of stomach contents. However, by taking tissue samples from living animals, the scientists were able to test for the presence of toxic chemicals from microplastics in their bodies.

The researchers also estimated the numbers of plastic fragments being ingested daily by whales and whale sharks. While they thought whale sharks were likely eating nearly 200 items per day, the fin whales’ plastic consumption numbered in the thousands.

Many giant filter feeders are already listed as endangered, and often their feeding grounds overlap with some of the world’s worst pollution hotspots.

“It has become clear though that microplastic contamination has the potential to further reduce the population numbers of these species, many of which are long-lived and have few offspring throughout their lives,” said Ms Germanov.

 

By Josh Gabbatis, Science Correspondent, The Independent

February 5, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/microplastics-ocean-pollution-whales-sharks-threat-plastic-coffee-cups-microbeads-a8194131.html

A third of coral reefs entangled with plastic

Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, say scientists.

More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region.

This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025.

Plastic raises by 20-fold the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs, according to research. Plastic bags, bottles and rice sacks were among the items found.

“Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change,” said Dr Joleah Lamb of Cornell University in Ithaca, US.

“It’s sad how many pieces of plastic there are in the coral reefs …if we can start targeting those big polluters of plastic, hopefully we can start reducing the amount that is going on to these reefs.”

  

Infected coral snagged in plastic. Photo: Joleah Lamb.  Plastic floating over corals. Photo: Kathryn Berry

Precious resource

More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural importance.

It’s thought that plastic allows diseases that prey on the marine invertebrates that make-up coral reefs to flourish. Branching or finger-like forms of corals are most likely to get entangled in plastic debris.

These are important habitats for fish and fisheries, the scientists say.

“A lot of times we come across big rice sacks or draping plastic bags,” said Dr Lamb, who led the study.

“What we do find is these corals with a lot of complexity like branches and finger-like corals will become eight times more likely to be entangled in these types of plastics.”

In the study, published in the journal Science, international researchers surveyed more than 150 reefs from four countries in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014.

Plastic was found on one-third of the coral reefs surveyed. Reefs near Indonesia were loaded with most plastic, while Australian reefs showed the lowest concentration. Thailand and Myanmar were in the middle.

“The country’s estimated amount of mismanaged plastics – so the way they deal with their plastic waste – was a strong predictor of how much we would see on the reef,” said Dr Lamb.

  Plastic debris on the beach in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Joleah Lamb

Coral reefs face many threats. Coral bleaching is caused by unusually warm water. Coral polyps loose algae from their tissues, which drains them of their colour. They may recover if temperature changes are reversed in a reasonably short time, but this process can take many years.

In the case of diseases, organisms attack coral, leading to likely death. Previous research has found that plastic debris can stress coral through blocking out light and oxygen, thereby giving pathogens a chance to take hold.

Based on projections of plastic waste going into the ocean, the researchers suggest that the number of plastic items snagged on Asia-Pacific corals may increase from 11.1 billion to 15.7 billion plastic items by 2025.

An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean in a single year.

More than three-quarters of this plastic is thought to originate on land.

Featured image: Plastic bottle wedged in the coral reef. Photo: Kathryn Berry

A third of coral reefs ‘entangled with plastic’

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-42821004

 

Scientist appalled by Newfoundland’s underwater trash problem

Pottery, plastics and pedal bikes are just some of the underwater trash found by researchers.

A research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been surveying what lies beneath the calm waters of harbours in Newfoundland. It isn’t pretty.

While there is debris with historical value, such as clay pottery and containers from European vessels visiting during the summer months, there is a much larger amount of trash.  It’s the more recent garbage found in our coastal environment that has Corey Morris concerned.

Barbecues and bikes

“It’s shocking,” said Morris, who is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Ocean Science at Memorial University.

“Some places it’s near impossible to see the natural bottom because its covered in so much debris.”

“Many of the new garbage contains plastic. We’re seeing vinyl siding, windows, carpet, flooring. We see household items such as fridges, stoves, washers — barbecues are very common in harbours around Newfoundland — tools [and] table saws,” he told CBC Radio’s the Broadcast.

   

Corey Morris says his most surprising find was this clothes dryer. When he opened the door he found work clothes and boots still inside. Household items and building materials were often found sitting on harbour floors. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

“And the number of pedal bikes are just incredible in our harbours for some reason.”

The purpose of the survey, conducted from 2007 to 2016, was to study the effects of harbour infrastructure on fish and fish habitat.

But over the course of almost a decade, it was the amount of underwater trash steadily accumulating that really stood out.

The researchers monitored 20 locations over the course of the survey, from the tip of the Northern Peninsula to the Southern Shore of the Avalon.

Every year they found new evidence of dumping — lawn chairs, fish trapped in discarded fishing gear, bags of garbage, clothing and rubber tires.

  A sculpin trapped in discarded fishing gear. Morris says the number of fish, both dead and alive, tangled in old gear was the most disturbing discovery. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

Widespread problem

Morris didn’t want to identify the harbours surveyed because, he said, it’s a widespread issue and not specific to any particular part of the province.

“Everywhere you go you’ve got the same problem. You can go in any harbour from one end of the province to the other and once you go down underwater, everything looks the same.”

Harbours without wharves were much cleaner, he said. But even in communities with newer wharves, the researchers saw debris appearing year after year.

“That’s what really raised my concern,” he said. “This is still happening. This is still an issue. Like, what are we doing?” …

Featured image: Beverage containers cover the floor of a harbour in Newfoundland. (Submitted to CBC by Corey Morris)

 

READ FULL ARTICLE:  What’s in your harbour? Scientist appalled by Newfoundland’s underwater trash problem

By Maggie Gillis, CBC News, 

November 21, 2017

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/harbour-garbage-newfoundland-1.4412203

 

Even Sea Creatures in the Deepest, Darkest Trenches have ingested Plastic

Plastic is probably everywhere in your life—but according to new research conducted in the very deepest parts of the ocean, that’s true even for the most remote tiny seafloor critters living almost 7 miles below the surface as well.

The tests, which were done on small shellfish found in deep-sea trenches across the Pacific Ocean, haven’t been published in a scientific journal yet and were conducted under the auspices of Sky Ocean Rescue, an anti-plastic pollution campaign run by a European media company. But this sort of finding has been expected for quite a while.

“These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris,” lead researcher Alan Jamieson, a senior lecturer in marine ecology at Newcastle University, in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.

Jamieson and his colleagues had already determined that these deep-sea trenches are full of plastic. But they also wanted to know how animals in that environment were interacting with the pollution that surrounds them. So they sent underwater robots down into trenches across the Pacific Ocean to collect small shellfish, which they brought back up to the surface so they could look inside their stomachs.

And those examinations were not pretty, to say the least. “The results were both immediate and startling,” Jamieson said in the press release. “There were instances where the fibers could actually be seen in the stomach contents as they were being removed.”

All told, they gathered 90 critters out of trenches ranging from 4 to 7 miles deep. More than half the animals from every single spot had plastic inside of them. This spanned a whole range of types of plastic, including textile materials like rayon and nylon, and harder plastics like polyvinyls.

According to calculations scientists published earlier this year, humans have produced a whopping 9 billion tons of plastic since figuring out how to make it in the first place. Most of that plastic has been discarded, and about 300 million tons of it have ended up in the ocean.

Once plastic reaches the ocean, it can gradually sink down to the seafloor, be carried around the globe by currents, and break down into infinitesimally small pieces. But it never actually disappears—it just lurks in the environment, waiting for scientists to come looking for it.

By Meghan Bartels, Newsweek, November 16, 2017

OCEAN POLLUTION: EVEN SEA CREATURES IN THE DEEPEST, DARKEST TRENCHES ARE FULL OF PLASTIC

http://www.newsweek.com/ocean-plastic-pollution-being-eaten-even-deepest-sea-creatures-712725

 

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic fibres, with 83% of samples found to be polluted.

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, and overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?” . . .

A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent.
Pinterest
 A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

 

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. “We don’t know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are,” said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: “Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.”

Image result for microplastic found in tap water

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: “It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release.” His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: “If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation.” Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

“We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs,” said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Créteil, who did the Paris studies. “What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.”

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems,  . . . and rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. “This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one,” said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long.
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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tap water, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

“We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late,” said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts. . . .

 

By Damian Carrington, Environmental editor, The Guardian

September 6, 2017

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets.

New studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US.

Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

“Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere”.

Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from grocery stores around the world.

Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials’ advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day.

The health impact of ingesting plastic is not known. Scientists have struggled to research the impact of plastic on the human body, because they cannot find a control group of humans who have not been exposed.

“Everybody is being exposed to some degree at any given time, from gestation through death,” researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University wrote in 2013. “Detectable levels of [the plastic] bisphenol A have been found in the urine of 95% of the adult population of the United States.”

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic Photograph MirageC/Getty Images

. . . The research also comes after a Guardian analysis found 1m plastic bottles are purchased per minute, and that recycling efforts are failing to keep pace with production, which is expected to quadruple by 2050. Some environmentalists have said the threat of plastic pollution now “rivals climate change”.

Mason’s work adds to research on plastics in salt from other countries around the world, including in Spain and China.

In August, Spanish researchers concluded “sea products are irredeemably contaminated by microplastics” and there is “a background presence of microplastics in the environment”, in a study published in Scientific Reports in Nature. There, scientists tested 21 types of table salt and found plastic in all of them. The most common type of plastic they found was polyethylene terephthalate [PET], the material used to make plastic bottles.

This spring, a group of scientists from France, the UK and Malaysia tested 17 types of salt from eight different countries and examined what they believed were plastic particles. They found plastic in all but one sample and found the most of the plastic was from polyethylene and polypropylene.

Scientists first found plastics in salt in China in 2015. Microscopic plastic particles from face scrubs, cosmetics, and shards of plastic bottles were found in samples of 15 salt products found in Chinese grocery stores.

Some researchers, such as Mason, now believe sea salt could be more vulnerable to plastic contamination because of how it is made, through a process of dehydration of sea water.

“It is not that sea salt in China is worse than sea salt in America, it’s that all sea salt – because it’s all coming from the same origins – is going to have a consistent problem,” said Mason. “I think that is what we’re seeing.”

… Mason’s study also looked at how drinking water and beer are contaminated with plastic.  …’ We have to focus on the flow of plastic and the pervasiveness of plastics in our society and find other materials to be using instead.”

By Jessica Glenza in New York, The Guardian,

September 8, 2017

READ FULL ARTICLE at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt-around-world-contaminated-by-plastic-studies?CMP=share_btn_fb

 

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted.

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of plastic fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

“We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles [like plastic fibres] and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. “If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we can’t measure,” she said. “Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying.” The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: “Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.”

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: “It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release.” His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

  A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

… The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in people’s homes. As well, a leading health expert in London has warned that people could be breathing in microparticles of plastic, with as yet unknown consequences on health.

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: “There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.”

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

… “We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late,” said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

READ FULL ARTICLE at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

By Damian Carrington Environment editor, The Guardian, September 6, 2017

A Mission to the Pacific Plastic Patch in the South Pacific Gyre

Capt. Charles Moore, a mariner who has spent years travelling “hundreds of thousands of nautical miles” to measure the impact of plastic waste in the ocean has estimated that a “raft” of plastic debris spanning more than 965,000 square miles (2.5m sq km) is concentrated in a region of the South Pacific.  He was part of the team which discovered the first ocean “garbage patch” in the North Pacific gyre in 1997 and has now turned his attention to the South Pacific gyre.

Moore has just returned from a sampling expedition around Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island.

  Capt. Charles Moore has been researching the ocean for plastic since 1997. Source: ALGALITA

Although plastic is known to occur in the Southern Hemisphere gyres, very few scientists have visited the region to collect samples.

Oceanographer Dr Erik van Sebille, from Utrecht University, says the work of Capt Moore and his colleagues will help fill “a massive knowledge gap” in our understanding of ocean plastics.

“Any data we can get our hands on is good data at this point,” he told BBC News.

Capt Moore explained that the space occupied by sub-tropical gyres – areas of the ocean surrounded by circulating ocean currents – is approximately the same size as the entire land mass of the Earth, but they are now being “populated by our trash”.

… “It’s hard not to find plastic in the ocean any more,” Dr van Sebille said. “That’s quite shocking”.

  Our plastic rubbish has floated to islands that are thousands of miles from the nearest human population. Source: SPL

Capt Moore is the founder of Algalita Marine Research, a non-profit organisation aiming to combat the “plastic plague” of garbage floating in the world’s oceans.

For more than 30 years, he has transported scientists to the centre of remote debris patches aboard his research ship, Alguita.

Dragging nets behind the vessel, the crew sieves particles of plastic from the ocean, which are then counted and fed into estimates of global microplastic distribution.

Although scientists agree that plastic pollution is a widespread problem, the exact distribution of these rafts of ocean garbage is still unclear.

“If we don’t understand where the plastic is, then we don’t really understand what harm it does and we can’t really work on solving the problem,” said Dr van Sebille.

Eating rubbish

Capt Moore and his crew hope to address this lack of data through their research trips.

On this latest voyage, Capt Moore and his colleagues are also investigating how plastic in the South Pacific Ocean may be threatening the survival of fish.

Lanternfish, that live in the deep ocean, are an important part of the diet of whales, squid and king penguins and the Algalita team says that plastic ingestion by lanternfish could have a domino effect on the rest of the food chain.

Little lantern fish are smaller than your finger and live so deep that very few people have ever seen one alive.  Every night, all around the world, this false bottom of fish rises up just a bit from the depths of the sea, eats heaps of carbon-rich plankton, and then drops back down again and poops carbon.  In a world in which carbon emissions have become an enormous ecological threat, and in an era when great minds are searching for ways to achieve carbon sequestration to remove it from the atmosphere, it is amazing to consider that these tiny lantern fish sink far more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined.
 

… Christiana Boerger, a marine biologist in the US Navy, has seen the impact of oceanic garbage patches first hand, aboard the Alugita and she says that some fish species “have more man-made plastic in their stomach than their natural food”.

… Capt Moore says the South Pacific Gyre garbage patch is different from those in the Northern Hemisphere, because most of the litter appears to have come from the fishing industry.

Elsewhere, scientists are shifting their attention away from remote mid-ocean garbage patches to locations closer to home.

“If you think about plastic in terms of its impact, where does it harm marine life?” Dr van Sebille posed.

“Near coastlines is where biology suffers. It’s also where the economy suffers the most.” …

FEATURED IMAGE:  South Pacific garbage patch – Most of the plastic is made up of tiny pieces floating at the surface.  Source: ALGALITA

 

READ FULL ARTICLE AND WATCH VIDEO AT:

A mission to the Pacific plastic patch

July 16, 2017

 

If you drop plastic in the ocean, where do the ocean currents take it?

Modelling shows that ocean currents can concentrate slow-degrading debris in certain parts of the world’s oceans, leading to so-called ‘garbage patches’.

Shanghai
 A bottle dropped in the water off the coast of China is likely be carried eastward by the north Pacific gyre and end up a few hundred miles off the coast of the US. Photograph: Graphic

It is estimated that between four and 12m metric tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year. This figure is only likely to rise, and a 2016 report predicted that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh the amount of fish.

. . . A lot of plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into smaller pieces and is ingested by marine life, and it is thought that a significant amount sinks to the sea bed. But a lot of it just floats around, and thanks to sophisticated modelling of ocean currents using drifting buoys, we can see where much of it ends up.

Oceanographer Erik van Sebille, who works at Imperial College London and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, has shown that thanks to strong ocean currents known as gyres, huge amounts of plastic end up in “garbage patches” around the world, the largest one being in the north Pacific.

As can be seen in the image above, a bottle dropped in the water off the coast of China, near Shanghai, is likely be carried eastward by the north Pacific gyre and end up circulating a few hundred miles off the coast of the US.

A bottle dropped off the Mexican coast, near Acapulco, is likely to be caught in the same gyre. Some of the plastic waste drifts south, but a huge amount is swept west towards Asia before floating north and ending up in the same area – the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch [aka Pacific Trash Vortex].

The North Atlantic is home to another powerful current. The image below shows what happens to plastic debris that enters the ocean around New York. Initially a lot of it heads over to Europe, with concentration in the Bay of Biscay and, to a lesser extent, the North Sea, but the majority is trapped by the current and ends up floating in the middle of the ocean.

It’s a similar story in the UK. A bottle dropped in the sea off Cornwall may well be dragged through the channel towards Scandinavia, but the greatest concentrations are again in the Bay of Biscay and the western North Atlantic.

India is one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters, creating more than 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste a day. The plastic waste that enters the water around Mumbai is likely to end up either being caught in the Indian Ocean gyre and floating close to Madagascar, or being swept east and into the Bay of Bengal, one of the worst places in the world for plastic pollution

You can explore further modelling on Van Sebille’s website, Plastic Adrift.

 

By Alan Evans, The Guardian

June 29, 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/29/if-you-drop-plastic-in-the-ocean-where-does-it-end-up