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Fish ingest less microplastics than assumed

Recently, an Argentinian study was published into microplastics in coastal freshwater fish captured at the Rio de la Plata. Eighty-seven fish belonging to eleven different species were studied. Microplastics were found in all fish. Plastic microfibers represented 96% of the microplastics.

However, a other research from Wageningen shows an entirely different result. Four hundred North Sea fish belonging to four different species were studied on the presence of microplastics (bigger than 20 μm). Just two microplastics were found in one fish, a sprat. How can we explain the vast difference between these two studies?

The researchers from Wageningen found it suspicious that earlier researches had reported relatively large amounts of microplastics in fish. They suspected contamination; pollution of the fish by the researchers of the earlier studies, such as fibres from clothing worn during the investigation or the presence of plastic particles in the air. That is why this time the research was designed in such a way that contamination could be eliminated.

Their conclusion: fish possibly ingest less microplastics than is generally thought.

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Nanoplastics in scrubs with plastic microbeads

Many people regularly use scrubs when they shower. Scrubs are made using large mixers that mix all the ingredients. The containers are then filled with this mixture. Canadian researchers from McGill University in Montreal hypothesised that nanoplastics could form from the plastic microbeads that are used as an ingredient during the mixing process. They purchased three bottles of scrubs to test this.

The three bottles with plastic microbeads indeed contained nanoplastics that arose from the mixing process. The scientists found that there were at least 300 billion nanoplastics per gram of scrub and that the nanoplastics were between 24 and 52 nanometres (one nanometre = one billionth of a metre) and that they represented 0.03% of the weight of the plastics in the scrubs.

They could also determine that the nanoplastics are made from polyethylene, just as are the much larger microbeads.

This is the first time that the presence of nanoplastics in scrubs containing plastic microbeads has been demonstrated. The scientists also point out that scrubs are used directly on the skin and that users come into direct contact with nanoplastics. The nanoplastics could enter the skin and damage the body’s cells. There is no legislation anywhere to prevent this.

The research was published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology.

kunstgras sports fields
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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.

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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
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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.