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“Do not reuse supermarket water bottles”

Amsterdam, 20 December 2018– Australian researchers recommend not to reuse plastic bottles, that, filled with water, are sold in supermarkets,

Professor Anas Ghadouani and his team at the University of Western Australia in Perth have tested metal and plastic water bottles. The immediate cause was that more and more people refill purchased bottles with tap water for environmental reasons; it means that you do not need to buy a bottle again and again. But how harmful is this refilling plastic bottles for your health?

According to Ghadouani glass and metal bottles are safest, especially bottles made from stainless steel. They are followed by the plastic bottles that are specially made to be reused, such as for instance a Dopper. The professor says that in general it is wise not to do this longer than one year.

Refilling PET bottles is nothing short of the worst option, as there will always be plastic particles in the water. Especially when you place such a bottle in the sun, many microplastics are released.

Read the university’s  press release.

Also read: Microplastics in bottled water


Breaking news: Microplastics penetrate organs quickly

Amsterdam, 11 December 2018 – The threat of microplastics to our health and that of animals is probably far larger than we realized up to now. For the first time ever, research has shown that nanoparticles are quickly absorbed by marine organisms, in this case the king scallop (Pecten maximus). Previous lab studies were performed with far larger concentrations, but this time realistic conditions were taken into account, namely the concentration of nanoplastics that can be expected in the marine environment. The international research appeared in Environmental Science & Technology.

The researchers developed a new measuring method and even fabricated detectable nanoplastics (carbon radiolabeled nanopolystyrene). The results are truly alarming.

  • Within six hours billions of microplastics (of 250 nanometers, approx. 0.00025 mm) penetrate the tissue of the marine organisms.
  • Within a few hours even smaller particles (20 nanometers, approx. 0.00002 mm) permeate organs such as the liver, gills and muscles. These smaller particles also enter the bloodstream.
  • While the particles spread, toxic substances also spread through the body.
  • It took weeks after the animals had been transferred to clean water for all the plastics to leave the body. The 20 nanometer-particles could no longer be detected after two weeks.

King scallops (St James shell, great scallop) are a well-loved food. The Netherlands Nutrition Centre recommend shellfish and crustaceans as a healthy choice. This recommendation does not yet take this new scientific insight into account.

Photo: Scan of nanoplastics, Plymouth University, UK

Toxic Soup: dioxins in plastic toys
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Toxic Soup: dioxins in plastic toys

Amsterdam, 10 December 2018– For some years now we have been warned that persistent organic toxins (POPs) are present in toys made from recycled plastic. Last year, the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) examined 95 Rubik’s cubes and 16 other items, such as combs and toys, from 26 countries. 90% of the examined cubes contained toxic flame retardants from casings of discarded electronic devices.

Last month, the results of a new study were published entitled Toxic Soup, Dioxins in Plastic Toys; this time nine items were examined, eight toys and one hair-slide. For the first time brominated dioxins were found in these items. All products were probably made of plastic from electronic waste containing brominated flame retardants. Brominated dioxins are hormone disrupting substances that affect. among others, the nervous system and the endocrine system and are carcinogenic. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Peter Behnisch, co-author and attached to BioDetection Systems (BSD) in Amsterdam: “We applied a biotechnological measuring method with specially grown cells that respond to dioxins. We found a surprisingly high toxic content in products made from recycled plastic. As far as we know this is the first public study that demonstrates the presence of brominated dioxins in toys for children.”

Governments aim to close the plastic chain, which involves not incinerating plastic waste, but reusing it to manufacture new products. As that chain is more closed, the risk of higher concentrations of unwanted harmful substances in new products increases. The use of harmful flame retardants is banned in the European Union, but there is no control on products imported from outside the European Union that are made from recycled plastic. The rules are less strict in other countries.

The core message of the researchers: much more stringent measures are needed to prevent toxins returning in consumer goods such as toys through recycling. Provisions of the Stockholm Convention and the Basel Convention in particular must be strengthened.

Read the summary of the study and which measures are proposed.

Also read – Nationaal plan hormoonverstorende stoffen in een circulaire economie

Also read –Toxic chemicals in toys

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Microplastics in insects in rivers South Wales

Amsterdam, 13 November 2018– Is plastic pollution causing microplastics to penetrate the food chains of freshwater ecosystems? A recent research answers with a yes. Half of the examined insects from rivers in South Wales turned out to carry microplastics that must have originated from the water or the soil they live in.

Immature mayflies and caddisflies from three rivers were examined for microplastics. The sampling areas were found upstream and downstream of five water purification plants. On all locations microplastics were found in the insects. Contrary to the expectation of the researchers that insects downstream would contain larger amounts of plastics than those upstream, no significant differences were detected between the locations.

Because the examined insects have different diets, the researchers could also investigate whether choice of food plays a role in the exposure to microplastics. This turned out not to be the case. However, the mayflies that primarily live in the water, did turn out to contain considerably less microplastics. This in contrast with the mayflies that search for similar food on the river bed. So, a preference for a certain habitat, water or soil, might provide an explanation for the different amounts of microplastics found.

The researchers express their concern about the spread of microplastics in food chains through insects. Especially fish, but also other animals – such as amphibians and predaceous insects – feed on mayflies and caddisflies. This mechanism was also brought to light in another recent research.

Also read: Mosquitoes transfer microplastics from water to land 


Plasticizers in plastic slow down baby’s language development

Amsterdam, 9 November 2018 – In order to make hard plastic products, firming substances such as Bisphenol A (BPA) are used. To make plastic soft and pliable, on the other hand, plasticizers such as phthalates are used. Both groups of chemicals are suspected to disrupt our endocrine system. Everyone, young and old, is constantly exposed to these chemicals and not just because of plastic products. Exposure to endocrine disruptors is associated with approximately eighty diseases, including testicular cancer, obesity and reproductive disorders.

One more study can be added to the series of studies that highlight the harmfulness of these substances. Swedish and American researchers have examined urine of pregnant women for the presence of phthalates. The results were related to the vocabulary of their children when they were 30 months old. A vocabulary of less than 50 words was considered a delay in language development. On both sides of the Atlantic a significant association was found between the presence of two specific phthalates and language deficiency. CNN reported on this research.

The fact that especially pregnant women are at risk, is known for much longer. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands concluded in a report that the exposure standards for BPA should be strengthened. Exposure to BPA should be brought down, particularly for pregnant women and young children. Instead of tougher legislation, in March 2016 the then Minister of Public Health Edith Schippers (VVD) made with the commitment to the House of Parliament that the information given to pregnant women and young mothers who are breastfeeding would be extended. This was to be done in collaboration with RIVM, the Nutrition Centre and VeiligheidNL.

The Swedish and American researchers also make some recommendations to avoid risks: “Buy less processed meat, use alternatives to plastic when possible, and avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic when possible”. The results of their study emphasise the importance of information. Has the public information indeed improved in the Netherlands after the commitment made by the Minister?

The VeiligheidNL website does not offer any information. Nutrition Centre says that “it is important that the exposure to BPA is as low as possible for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, new-borns and young children “. But also: “if you look at all the products (containing BPA) together, the amount you ingest as a consumer is far below the current health limit.” RIVM has extended their information in 2017, but the advice to prevent high intake of possible endocrine disruptors, are extremely poor and general. They read as an open door: “eat varied, use products according to the instructions and avoid situations in which you ingest the same substances for a long time.”

Pregnant women need to make do with this information. A number of questions over the telephone teach us that Child health care centres provide no specific information about avoiding exposure to BPA or phthalates. Denmark shows us that better information can be provided. How things are handled there, is summarized in a Wemos report.

In 2016, Minister of Public Health Schippers chose for better information instead of stricter legislation. The conclusion can be no other than that this information did not get off the ground. It is all the more important that the recommendations in the National Plan Endocrine Disruptors  in a Circular Economy. This plan, drawn up by Wemos and supported by, among others, the Plastic Soup Foundation and Stichting Tegengif was presented to Dutch Parliament September last.

Also read: Hospitals must become BPA-free.

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Trophic transfer of microplastics in seals confirmed

Amsterdam, 06 September 2018 – Marine animals eat microplastics when they mistake it for food. When they themselves are eaten, the microplastics are unintentionally ingested by the predator. This process is called the ‘trophic transfer’ of microplastics. The trophic transfer could potentially spread microplastics throughout the entire food chain. In a recently published study in Environmental Pollution, the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals, higher up in the food chain, is confirmed. This is an indirect but potentially important form of ingestion of microplastics.

To research the trophic transfer of microplastics, four captive grey seals were fed with mackerel caught off the English coast. The digestive tracts of 31 mackerels were examined to gain an impression of the presence of microplastics. The faeces of the seals were also collected twice a week for 16 weeks and examined for the presence of microplastics. The types of plastic that were found in the mackerel and the faeces showed significant overlap, with ethylene propylene the most commonly occurring type of plastic. There were some differences too, however. Ten of the 31 mackerels had 18 types of microplastics, 72% of which were plastic fibres and 28% small plastic fragments. In 15 of the 31 faeces, 26 microplastics were found, mostly consisting of small plastic fragments (69%) and, to a lesser degree, plastic fibres (31%).

The most important explanation for the differences is that the mackerel whose digestive tracts were examined were not the mackerel that were fed to the seals. Direct ingestion of the microplastics is unlikely as the seals had already resided in the centre for four years and were thus not recently exposed to plastic debris in the ocean. The researchers therefore concluded that this research confirms the trophic transfer of microplastics in seals.

The potential effects of the microplastics on the seals was also discussed. Previous research showed that microplastics in the digestive system reduces nutrition absorption, energy reserves and reproduction which could have a negative impact on the animals. Whether this also applies to seals is not known. Further, during the production process, added chemicals and organic substances that later attach to the plastic in the water may also have negative effects on the health of seals. Finally, the authors state the possible effects on human health. We too consume marine animals are thus exposed to microplastics through the trophic transfer. A recent survey mapped the potential health hazards of microplastics for humans.




Marine microplastic pollution: possible threat to public health

Amsterdam, 29 August 2018 – Possible hazards of marine microplastics are increasingly brought to our attention. A recently published outline study in Marine Pollution Bulletin mapped these potential hazards with respect to food safety and health. As plastics break up into ever smaller particles, their concentration in the environment continuously increases. The presence of microplastics in many types of fish and shellfish has already been demonstrated. Laboratory experiments show that marine organisms exposed to relatively high concentrations may suffer health problems, including reduced fertility and damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Should these effects also occur in organisms in the environment, microplastics could have negative consequences for marine populations and ecosystems. The researchers point out that the food supply for humans may then also be threatened.

We as humans are not only exposed to micro plastics by consuming fish and shellfish. They are in the air we breathe and in products we use, such as beer, honey, salt and tap water. The smallest microplastics are potentially capable of leaving the gastrointestinal tract and entering the so-called lymphatic and cardiovascular system. As a result, microplastics could spread throughout the body, including the organs. At these locations microplastics can then cause damage to cells.

There are also other possible health risks related to micro plastics. Chemicals added to plastics during the production process may leak from the plastics at a later stage. And organic toxins, present in the environment, attach themselves to plastic like iron to a magnet. Furthermore, the presence of bacteria, including potential pathogens, on plastic has been demonstrated. Especially in areas with a lot of plastic waste and poor sanitation this can have major consequences.

There is therefore every reason to consider microplastics as a possible threat to public health. However, there is a lot of uncertainty. For example, no methods are so far available to measure the smallest microplastic particles, which makes it therefore impossible to determine to what extent we are exposed. In addition, there is still scientific uncertainty about the question of whether the microplastics that enter our body actually cause health problems.

The recommendations of the authors include: a risk analysis on food safety, further studies on the toxicity of microplastics, and improving techniques to detect the smallest microplastic particles in particular.


Also read: How damaging is breathing in microplastics?


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Bristle worms eat plastic

Amsterdam, 20 August 2018 – Buoys of polystyrene (EPS), often used for the cultivation of oysters and muscles in open sea in Korea and other countries, slowly disintegrate under the influence of sunlight. Research showed that a single buoy could break up in seven million particles. And about 100,000 of these types of buoys are used per square kilometre of ocean surface. However, a recent study showed that sunlight is not the only cause of the disintegration. Bristle worms (polychaetes) work their way into the buoy, eat the polystyrene and then excrete microplastics. This is an alarming find.

The Korean study, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, found on average six to seven worms per buoy. And a single bristle worm can produce hundreds of thousands particles of microplastics in a single year. Laboratory experiments showed that one adult bristle worm excreted over 11,000 particles of microplastics in one week.

Bristle worms are at the bottom of the food chain and eaten by birds and fish. Researchers fear this could increase the spread of microplastics.

Two years ago, scientific research already discovered that the growth of the land-living earthworms is slowed down, and their live span is shortened, if they are exposed certain concentrations of microplastics. These organisms also spread microplastics by excreting them into the ground at greater depths.

Also read: Plastic is making coral reefs sick