kunstgras sports fields

Europe wants clean and safe artificial turf on sports fields

Europe wants to see stricter norms imposed on the use of rubber granulate on sports fields with artificial grass. The level of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in rubber granulate should be reduced to below safe limits.

In recent years there has been quite a bit of debate over the use of the rubber granulate. In December 2016 the Dutch National Institute for Health and the Environment (RIVM) concluded following research that playing sports on artificial turf pitches with rubber granulate is harmless and safe. Nevertheless the research institute recommended tightening European norms for rubber granulate. The level of PAHs in the granulate lies below the European norm for mixtures of substances, but above the norm when it comes to consumer products.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) also published a report citing that there is ‘little reason for concern’, although it did not rule out the chance of developing cancer. The ECHA recommends taking off shoes and clothing and showering after coming into contact with the granulate.

European guidelines for toys are much stricter with regard to PAHs. The European Commission has indicated that the norms for rubber granulate should be just as strict as for toys. A statement which D66 MEP Gerben Jan Gerbrandy says he is pleased with, he told Dutch daily newspaper AD, ‘Football players in youth teams come into just as much contact with the granulate as children do when they play with toys.’

Last year the Plastic Soup Foundation recommended putting an end to the use of artificial turf on sports fields because of environmental pollution as much as the possible health effects. Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “There is every reason to stop using artificial turf altogether and to go back to playing on natural grass again. Our message is clear: Stop using artificial turf on sports fields.”

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Video shows plastic entering the food chain

Arrow worms are transparent torpedo-shaped animals. They live in the sea from zooplankton. For the first time a film has been made showing how an arrow worm ingests a plastic microfiber. The digestive canal of an arrow worm (Sagitta setosa) is the same length as the body of the animal itself. The fiber curls blocking its digestive tract, preventing the consumption of other food.

Richard Kirby is a British specialist in plankton research. He often comes across plastic in plankton, but saw this for the first time. The penetration of microfibers into the food chain is a gradual and invisible process which is taking place all over the world. It´s usually the larger mammals which swallow or get caught up in plastic that get the attention, but this video shows how plastic is infiltrating ecosystems.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “These fibers mainly originate from synthetic clothing which is washed in washing machines. We are finding out more and more about the disastrous effects microplastics are having on the environment. This amazing video brings it home to us that tackling this form of pollution must be given the highest priority.”

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Microfibers Fallout

Paris, 17 January 2016 – For the first time ever, scientists have measured the atmospheric fallout of microfibers. In Paris, they counted the quantity of atmospheric microfiber fallout daily at two locations (inside the city of Paris itself and in a suburb) for a year long. The fibers, which include plastic pollution from known and unknown sources, land on the ground or are washed towards the sea.

Every day, 2 to 355 microfibers were counted per square meter. The amount in the city was twice as high as in the suburb. Half of the fibers consisted of cotton or wool, 21% natural polymers, 17% was completely plastic and 12% was plastic mixed with other materials. Fewer microfibers were found in dry weather than in rainy weather conditions. The researchers estimate tentatively that between 3 and 10 tons of synthetic fibers fall on the ground every year in Paris and its suburbs, which covers an area of 2500 square kilometers.

Their study was published in Marine Pollution Bulletin and is the very first study of atmospheric microfiber pollution. The researchers conclude that fallout is a potential source of pollution by microplastics. Most of the fibers are presumably from textiles, considering their properties. Microplastics in the air can be blown by the wind towards the sea or can land anywhere. More research is necessary to understand the mechanisms and effects of atmospheric microplastics.

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The Health Council: “Prevent health risks caused by micro and nanoplastics”

The Hague, 15 December 2016. The Health Council of the Netherlands recommends that the deputy Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment prevents possible exposure of people to micro and nanoplastics in the environment. Up to now government policy has been to reduce emissions of plastics into the environment. The Council also recommends making possible health risks posed by microplastics in the environment part of government policy, for many reasons including the fact that:

  • Micro and nanoplastics can end up in our food and drinking water
  • Micro and nanoplastics can be inhaled through the air
  • Little is known about the effect of microplastics in the human body
  • Nanoplastics can pass through the intestinal wall and the placenta
  • Toxic effects on the immune system are conceivable
  • Microplastics may serve as carriers for spreading disease.

The Health Council has not made any concrete recommendations for tightening current policy. At present there is too much uncertainty concerning health risks as a result of exposure to micro and nanoplastics. First more research and measurement methods are required. The Health Council considers it desirable for the “government and businesses to jointly seek solutions to reduce and prevent products and emissions of micro and nanoplastics at all stages of the life cycle.” At the same time, the Council believes it is paramount to draw attention to changing public behaviour, so that less plastic ends up in the environment.

Hormoonverstorende stoffen hormone disrupting

Hormone disrupting substances found in the urine of Dutch parliamentarians

Dutch parliamentarians have hormone disrupting substances in their bodies which have been proven to be harmful to health. These are BPA and phthalates, some of which are listed as very worrying substances. The substances come from plastic and have a negative effect on fertility and the development of organs in unborn babies, young children and teenagers. The Institute for Environmental Studies at the VU University Amsterdam studied urine samples from four MPs for Wemos, an organization which aims to guarantee the right to health of every person in the world. The study showed:

  • That these substances were found in the urine of all four MPs
  • Everyone is continually exposed to these substances and therefore runs the risk of damage to their health in the long term
  • The exposure is unavoidable, even if you live healthily and environmentally consciously
  • The results match those of international studies
  • The only real solution is a ban on these substances.

Wemos is calling for strict(er) legislation, such as a ban on hormone-disrupting substances. The organization believes that people should not come into contact with these harmful substances especially not through food. Dutch TV consumer program Radar paid attention to the study on 14 November. Earlier this year, the Dutch National Institute for Health and the Environment published a report on hormone-disrupting substances and made recommendations for extra measures.

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Anchovy eat microbeads from personal care products

Japanese researchers have concluded in the journal Nature that for the first time it has been proven that fish eat microbeads from personal care products. The scientists studied 64 anchovy (Engraulis japonicus) from Tokyo Bay. Anchovy is the most popular fish in Japan. Normally, the contents of the stomach are not removed before consumption. As a result, people also consume microplastics.

  • A clear majority (49) of the anchovy had swallowed pieces of plastic. According to the researchers at 77% it’s the highest percentage of fish with plastic found in its digestive system.
  • In total, 150 pieces of plastic were identified. The average number of pieces per fish was 2.3 and the highest number found in individual fish was 15.
  • In the water these pieces of plastic – like magnets – attracted toxins. The researchers found that exposure to toxins due to swallowed plastic is lower than toxins that the fish ingest naturally through food. This could change with the increase in plastic pollution.

In addition to pieces of plastic, microfibres and foam, 7.3% of the total amount of plastic consisted of round beads. The microbeads of four face scrubs from three brands were studied. The shape of the round beads is so similar to microbeads from the scrubs looked at that it is improbable that they could be from a different source. However, it is impossible to say the same with certainty about the fragmented pieces of plastic. Some personal care products contain fragmented pieces of plastic which are indistinguishable from disintegrated fragments from larger pieces of plastic in the sea. This means that the figure 7.3% could actually be higher.  (25 October 2016)

Photo from article: microbeads found in anchovy

honden dogs

Hormone disruptors cause infertility in dogs

Hormone disrupting chemicals can cause infertility and birth defects in man’s best friend. These chemicals leak from dog food packaging and can be detected in the sexual organs of male dogs. That’s the findings of a report by British scientists from the University of Nottingham published recently in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Researchers collected sperm over the course of 26 years (1988 tot 2014) from dogs in an English breeding program. The analyses show that during this period:

  • The mobility of sperm cells fell by 35% in total since 1988
  • The number of live sperm cells decreased by an average of 10 percent
  • The number of puppies with Cryptorchidism (an abnormality in which one or both testes fail to descend into the scrotum) has increased fivefold
  • More female than male dogs are born.

In addition the researchers established a link between the presence of hormone disruptors in dog food and chemicals in the bodies of dogs. Flame retardants PBDE, PCB and DEHP were found in both in the food and in the dogs’ testes.

According to the researchers, dogs, which live as pets with humans, are an indicator species for research into the effects of hormone disruptors on the fertility of humans. Similar effects on fertility have been found in humans.

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Pathogenic bacteria travel the waters on microplastics

In a recent study, evidence shows that the Vibrio spp. genus of bacteria can populate floating pieces of microplastics in the marine environment. Vibrio spp. is a well-known genus of bacteria containing pathogenic strains to humans (e.g. cholera) and animals alike. Plastic debris and microplastics have a low biodegradability making them persist in the environment and potential vectors for spreading pathogens. A group of researchers in Germany recently published their study in the journal Marine Environmental Research. The researchers collected samples from 39 stations in the North Sea and 5 in the Baltic Sea and their paper illustrates that:

  • It is the first study where scientists were able to clearly identify (through DNA sequencing) multiple Vibrio water strains including pathogenic species such as parahaemolyticus and V. cholerae
  • Almost all microplastic samples show weathering, cracks and pitting in the plastic and evidence of ‘plastisphere’ communities (bacterial colonies growing in a biofilm)
  • The most common types of microplastic material found drifting in the sea water were, polyethelene, followed by polypropylene and polystyrene – supporting prior investigations which depict high abundance of these plastics in the environment.

This study further reinforces the issue of plastic pollution and its effect on the quality of water and the marine environment. The fact that pathogenic strains of the Vibrio genus of bacteria are able to survive on microplastics is disconcerting. The study at hand focused only on Vibrio spp., but perhaps it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human pathogenic bacteria on floating plastics.

toxic food

Microbeads turn fish into toxic food

For the first time there is hard evidence that sorbed pollutants from microbeads used in a specific commercial facial cleanser can transfer to fish if ingested. Australian researchers at RMIT University found that fish can absorb up to 12.5% of the pollutants contained in microbeads. The tests were done on rainbow fish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis). In the tests,

  • fish consumed microbeads that had been spiked with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in levels that mimic real circumstances;
  • the fishes’ tissue was tested after 21 days and compared to the control group;
  • the tests revealed that 12.5% of the PBDEs had leached into the tissue of the fish.

Fish rarely discriminate between food and plastic when swimming in environments that are polluted with billions of microbeads. It is already known that plastic particles in water act as magnets for pollutants, “by factors up to 1 million times”. One issue of concern is whether the toxins released from ingested particles can enter the tissue of fish, which we then eat. The Australian study is published in Environmental Science and Technology. One of the team’s questions for future research is to determine the implications for public health by “precisely measuring how much pollution could be entering this human food chain”, lead investigator Bradley Clarke told Science Alert.






Prof. Vethaak: “What about the microplastics that we cannot analyze yet?”

Large pieces of plastic in the environment are the most important sources of microplastics, explains ecotoxicologist Prof. Dick Vethaak (Deltares, VU Amsterdam) in a radio interview with Vroege Vogels (in Dutch). Plastic does not rot, but falls apart in ever smaller pieces, eventually becoming such minute pieces that they are too small to even be seen with a microscope. These tiny pieces of plastic are everywhere, not only in the sea, but in the air that we breathe too.

According to Vethaak there are several other sources of microplastics that include:

  • Plastic textile fibres that slip through the sewage system with the washing water
  • Wear and tear of car tyres
  • Polymer paints
  • Microplastics in cosmetics.

Apart from the fact that the worldwide production of plastic continues to rise, Vethaak is particularly concerned about three aspects.

  • Large pieces of plastic disintegrate into smaller pieces. A piece of plastic the size of a floor tile disintegrates into a million pieces as small as a grain of sand. This increases the chance of organisms coming into contact with it.
  • Even if the plastic disintegrates, the volume remains the same while the total surface area increases. This leads to an increase in the chemical response. Larger surface areas attract more bacteria and allow more chemical substances to adhere to them.
  • The very smallest particles enter bodies and circulate around them. They pass through cell walls and even penetrate into cells’ nuclei. They even enter the brains and the placenta of pregnant women.

Laboratory experiments with high concentrations of microplastics show that the absorption of microplastics by organisms has a number of negative effects such as:

  • Reduced energy levels
  • Reduced natural resistance
  • Cell damage
  • Infections.

We sometimes come across high concentrations in the field. In certain areas, such as the Baltic Sea, some effects can already be expected, says Vethaak.

“The point is that we do not know what the concentrations are at the moment. It is an unknown as you cannot measure the very smallest particles in the environment.” Vethaak continues, “The real question is what about the very smallest particles that we are unable to analyze?” He points to a relatively new threat: microorganisms that include bacteria and viruses that grow on discarded plastic. Some of the bacteria seem to grow even better on plastic than on other materials such as wood. This implies that plastic waste can spread pathogens relatively easily.

Prof. Dick Vethaak (Deltares, Free University of Amsterdam) was interviewed by Vroege Vogels following the publishing of an article with Dr. Heather Leslie (VU Amsterdam) in Environmental Science & Technology. The article argues that the plastic soup has become a threat to human health.