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Tyre wear and tear one of the most important sources of microplastics in the environment

Amsterdam, 18 June 2019 – Driving, especially accelerating and breaking, causes wear and tear of car tyres, which produces small plastic particles. These particles can become microplastics and end up in sewers, surface waters and air. In other words, car traffic contributes to particulate matter and environmental pollution. Recent research by the Dutch Open University, estimates that particulate matter of tyre wear and tear is responsible for 130,000 to 300,000 deaths worldwide. 

Researchers calculated this number by gathering data on car use and mileage from thirteen different countries: eight Western European countries, Australia, India, Brazil, China and the United States. This data represents about half of the world’s population and 60% of the vehicles worldwide. The researchers then calculated that the global average of emitted tyre dust per person equals an average of 0.8 kilograms per year. The average in the Netherlands is about half a kilogram of tyre particles per person per year.

Pathways into the environment

Particulate matter consists of 3% to 7% tyre dust. But these tyre dust particles are not only airborne; they also contribute to the plastic soup in rivers and oceans. An estimated 5% to 10% of the plastics found in the ocean can be attributed to tyre dust. This makes tyre dust, after discarded plastic waste, the second largest source of microplastics in the environment.

Next steps

There is currently no alternative material available for car tyres. However, the researchers suggest several mitigating policies. The wear and tear of tyres will decrease with the use of wear resistant tyres, open asphalt concrete for roads and self-driving cars. In addition, the researchers suggest an increased efficiency in capturing microplastics by waste water treatment plants should reduce the amount microplastics in rivers and oceans. 


Also read:

We eat drink and breathe more than 100000 microplastics per year

Tyre particles and microfibers from clothing are a major source of plastic soup

The first Plastic Health Summit in the world

We eat, drink and breathe microplastics. Does it make us ill? This is the key question during the world’s first Plastic Health Summit. On October 3 2019, the Plastic Soup Foundation and ZonMw, in cooperation with the Plastic Health Coalition, are organizing conference around the effects of plastic on human health. The initial test results of no less than 15 ground-breaking Dutch scientific research projects will be presented.

New evidence will also be presented regarding the health effects on our day-to-day life of – for example – BPA, PFAS, phthalates and other chemical additives to plastic. We will bring the different players together – industry, politicians, scientists – as we search for shared solutions and strive to form concrete partnerships.

Admission to the conference in Amsterdam is on a “By Invite Only” basis. Do you think you should attend this prestigious event? Tell us why you should be there in a mail to rsvp@plastichealthcoalition.org.

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Microplastics found in 119 detergent brands

Amsterdam, July 3 2019 – In Austria, an environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and a consumer organisation (AK OÖ) together tested 300 detergents for microplastics. In 119 detergents microplastics (> 50 μm) were found. Not just the lists of ingredients were examined, but also 36 samples were tested for microplastic contents in a laboratory.

GLOBAL 2000

The results were compared with the list of 520 polymers published by ECHA early 2019 (Annex XV Restriction Report). It is expected that these polymers will be banned from the European Union next year. Already during the investigation some supermarket chains committed to removing the so-called “microbeads” from their home brands.  The report, Test Plastik in Waschmitteln, welcomes this step, but also calls for a ban of all added microplastics – including the liquids.

Liquid plastic

The European chemicals agency ECHA has proposed to ban from the European Union all purposely added microplastics in detergents in 2020. However, this proposal will probably not include plastics in solved or liquid form. Is it unclear to what extend these liquid polymers are biodegradable. The report therefore calls for inclusion of liquid plastics on the list of ingredients to be banned. The report shows that there are plenty of brands that can do without.

Flawed information

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients on product packaging. European legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. The investigators note that this form of information is both tedious and flawed. They call for legislation that ensures that in all cases all ingredients are listed on packaging, just like with personal care products.


Also read: ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics 

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It’s raining microplastics, everywhere and every day

Amsterdam, April 17, 2019 – Sometimes the wind brings sand from the Sahara to the Netherlands. The sky can turn orange from it and, with light rain, everything can be covered with a layer of reddish dust. Researchers have turned their attention to microplastics in the air. These also appear to be settling out of the air and able to travel long distances. As a result, they end up everywhere, even in remote natural areas.

New study

In the mountains of the French Pyrenees, far from civilization, it was investigated how many microplastics fall out of the air onto the ground every day. Samples were taken over a five-month period, and measured both dry and wet (carried by raindrops) deposition. On average 249 plastic pieces were found per square meter per day, 73 pieces of film and 44 fibers. Calculations showed that the wind could transport these microplastics easily over a distance of 95 kilometers, and presumably over much longer distances. The article appeared in Nature Geoscience.

Two previous investigations

While quite a lot of research is being done into microplastics that find their way elsewhere via water, our knowledge about microplastics in the air is still very limited. In 2016, microfibre fallout was measured for the first time. In Paris and in a suburb of Paris, the microfibers settling out of the air every day were recorded. Between two and 355 microfibers per square meter per day were counted. Last year, Chinese researchers found that the daily fallout in the Chinese city of Dongguan was between 175 and 313 microplastics per square meter. Most of the microplastics there were synthetic microfibers.


Read also – Microfibers Fallout

Read also – How damaging is breathing in microplastics?

 

 

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Microplastic fibers found in amphipods in deepest point of the ocean

Amsterdam, 27 March 2019 – Animals living in the deepest place of the world ingested plastic. The seafloor of the Mariana Trench, between Japan and the Philippines, lies almost eleven kilometres below the surface of the sea. Last year researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. And the concentration of plastic particles was the highest, with 335 particles of mainly single-use plastics per square kilometre, at a depth of six kilometres.

Shocking discovery

And now, there has been another shocking discovery. In the deeps of the Mariana Trench lives a species of amphipods (Lysianassoidea amphipod) and marine biologists of Newcastle University, who study marine life in the trenches of the Pacific Ocean, wondered if plastic would be present in these amphipods. The researchers sampled 90 amphipods from the MarianaTrench and five other oceanic trenches.

Photo: Newcastle University

Mainly synthetic fibers

The result is shocking: 72% of the amphipods contained at least one particle of plastic. In the MarianaTrench all the amphipods contained plastic. And 84% of the microplastic fibers originated from synthetic clothing while 16% originated from other microplastics. In the least contaminated trench, the New Hebrides Trench, still half of the sampled amphipods contained plastic. The largest fiber was a few millimetres long, purple, twisted in the shape of an eight, and found in an amphipod barely a few centimetres tall.

This Newcastle University study is the first time proof that even animals living in the deepest locations on Earth ingest microplastics.


Also read: Plastic found in the deepest part of the ocean

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My plastic diary

Seven o’clock, and there’s an icy storm blowing outside. My warm fleece jumper is covered in cat’s hairs, so I give it a good shake. Plastic microfibers fly all over the place. They get in to my lungs, and for all I know they settle in to the lung tissue. With dirt and all, as the jumper was not too clean. I’m glad I don’t have asthma.

It’s time to get blown away in the park on my morning walk. There’s an empty plastic chips tray floating in the pond. I fish it out and throw it in the rubbish bin. Some viruses and bacteria feel very much at home on plastic, more so than in the wild. I bet they have now hitched a lift on the tiny scraps of plastic that have stayed behind on my fingertips.

A little later, I’m struggling through a complicated report. I can’t seem to concentrate. Is that lack of caffeine, or is my brain full of plastic as well? I wash that last thought away with a big sip of cappuccino.

My tummy begins to rumble. Biological multigrain crackers, cheese and humus on the menu: all hygienically packed in plastic. My lunch has been surreptitiously seasoned with tiny pieces of nanoplastic. They end up in my intestines and who knows, maybe they pass through my intestinal wall in to my blood and lymphatic system. That doesn’t seem healthy: but maybe I will be well-preserved…..

I have a productive afternoon, typing away on my plastic keys, using my mobile in its nice plastic protective cover, making notes with my plastic pen. And then it’s time to clear my head with a run.  My comfy synthetic sports clothes leave minute plastic particles on my skin, so small that they might be able to worm their way in to my cells. I make way for a brand-new mother with a pram. Did her baby already feed on plastic in the womb, via the placenta and the umbilical cord? He looks quite normal….

The running clothes go straight in to the washing machine and the dryer, so that they are nice and fresh for tomorrow.  As soon as I open the door of the dryer, another cloud of microfibers makes a beeline for my lungs.

Hubby is in the kitchen, stirring mussels and fish through the paella. They, of course, have been eating from the plastic soup in the ocean. The plastic has been accumulating in their fishy bodies, and will now move in to mine. When I go to bed later for a well-earned sleep, illegal micro- and nanoplastics may be pioneering their way through my body. If that is indeed the case, then I hope that my immune system will arrest them and throw them out, just as it would with other foreign bodies: although it’s not known whether that actually works with plastic.

Tomorrow, seven o’clock, a new plastic day begins. A new round of breathing, eating and drinking plastic. Fifteen researchers are going to investigate what that has been doing to my health. That’s both good and bad news. I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle, but for certainty’s sake I should maybe start a plastic diet…….

 

Renske Postma

 

Photo by Jeroen Gosse

 

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ZonMw starts pioneering research into the health risks associated with plastic

Amsterdam, 7 March 2019– Every day we inhale and ingest microplastics through the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. Do these microplastics then find their way to our brains or into the amniotic fluid of our unborn children? Do the particles affect our intestinal bacteria and lung cells? Or affect our immunity system? Countless questions about the possible health risks of plastic have not yet been answered. But this may change this year.

ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research, made known today that it is subsidising fifteen short research projects into the most burning questions. In total, with additional contributions by the NWO, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, it will make an amount of 1.6 million euros available for this purpose.

As the communications partner, the Plastic Soup Foundation will publish the results on its new Plastic Health Platform.

Maria signs collaboration agreementmst met ZonMW

Scientific research into potentially dangerous consequences of microplastics and nanoplastics on the level of the cells in organs is still in the starting blocks. Because ever more alarm bells are ringing about the health risks of plastic, this new scientific research is more urgent than ever. With the ZonMw research, the Netherlands is positioning itself as one of the worldwide leaders.

Frank Pierik, Programme Manager ZonMw says “We are happy that the first projects in the Microplastics & Health programme can start. There is still very little known. This series of short projects will shed light and pave the way for more structured research into the health effects of microplastics.”

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, adds to this. “We are proud that we have reached this stage. While we do not know for certain, plastic, and in particular microplastics and nanoplastics, are very likely to pose a health risk. Over the last few years we have worked behind the scenes to create The Plastic Health Coalition to continually communicate and share the results of new research. We will make the findings of the ZonMw research known to the world and produce mini documentaries about them. These videos can eventually be viewed on our website and on the ZonMw’s website. Another part of The Plastic Health Coalition is the Plastic Test Lab. In addition to the ZonMw research, we will work with the Free University of Amsterdam to test if various products release microplastics and nanoplastics – just think about plastic teabags in hot water – and hormone disrupting additives such as plasticisers and flame retardants.”

Photo: Karl Taylor Photography


Also read: Important new report plastic health

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Scientific research into health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

    


PRESS RELEASE

Start of scientific research into the health risks of microplastics: Does plastic make us sick?

Nieuwspoort, 22 March 2019 – Today, ZonMw, the Dutch organisation for health research and healthcare innovation, will launch fifteen unique research projects into the effects of micro- and nanoplastics on our health. This is the first scientific program in the world on this subject. A total of 1.6 million euros is being invested in the research projects.

Professor Dick Vethaak of Deltares, involved in four of the fifteen research projects, explains: “Microplastics spread easily via water and wind, resulting in a worldwide problem; they are present everywhere in our environment like a kind of grey mist.
We are constantly exposed to small plastic particles via our food, drink or through breathing. What this means for our health, however, cannot yet be properly estimated. There are strong indications of possible health risks, but there are also many uncertainties and knowledge gaps.”

Vethaak continues: “I am therefore delighted with this initiative from ZonMw and the involvement of the Plastic Soup Foundation. This is an initial exploratory study in which experts from various disciplines and sectors will work together. In particular, the collaboration between environmental scientists and medical specialists will be strong and unique. The Netherlands is taking the lead worldwide. I therefore have high expectations!”

The projects, which run for one year, address important questions such as:

  • How can microplastics enter our bodies?
  • What role does size, shape and composition play in this?
  • Could plastic in the environment be a source of diseases and infections since certain bacteria seem to thrive on plastic?
  • Can our immune system cope with plastic, or are we more likely to suffer inflammation and infections because of it?
  • How deep does microplastic penetrate into our bodies? Does it affect our brains? Is it harmful to unborn children?

Dr. Heather Leslie of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and involved in three of the projects, says: “If plastic particles can lead to chronic inflammation, that could mean the first step towards a whole series of chronic diseases. That is why we urgently need to investigate how many plastic particles from our consumer society penetrate the human body.”

The first interim results will be presented on 3 October, during a Plastic & Health conference in Amsterdam.

Just the beginning

ZonMw emphasises that the funding of these fifteen projects is only the beginning. One year is not long enough to obtain all the answers. Henk Smid, director of ZonMw, sees great potential in these studies and so also hopes that further long-term investigations will be possible. “The Netherlands has a leading position worldwide in scientific research into microplastics and this should be further expanded as quickly as possible.”

Plastic Health Coalition

Communication on the various pilot projects and possible (interim) results will be done by The Plastic Health Coalition – an initiative of the Plastic Soup Foundation. Working together in this coalition are various national and international environmental and research organisations which are concerned about or concerned with the effects of (micro) plastic on our health.

Plastic Test Lab

In addition to the 15 research projects, the first results of the Plastic Test Lab are also being presented today, a collaboration between the Plastic Soup Foundation and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “We have had three cosmetics products tested for the presence of plastic particles and the results are alarming. The absolute disillusion is the anti-wrinkle day cream from Olaz. In one 50 ml jar the VU found no less than 1.5 million plastic particles. Every time I use this product, I therefore close the wrinkles on my face with 90,000 particles. In addition, HEMA lipstick No.06 is made of plastic, and so is the Essie glitter nail polish from L’Oréal.”

Westerbos continues: “Tests such as these fit seamlessly with the fifteen research projects of ZonMw. This gives us more insight into how microplastics can enter our body unimpeded and unintentionally.”

More information

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Chemicals from plastic found in eggs of the fulmar

Amsterdam, February 20, 2019 – Fulmars skim the surface of the sea in search of food. They do not only ingest food, but also floating plastic. The stomach contents of the Northern Fulmar, according to long-term Dutch research, consists of twenty-five pieces of plastic on average. Researchers associated with the Canadian Wildlife Service have now discovered chemicals from plastic in the eggs of the fulmar for the first time. The researchers presume that the substances originate from the swallowed plastic and end up in egg yolks through the bloodstream.

Eggs from the Northern Fulmars that nestle on the island of Prince Leopold in the polar region north of Canada were investigated. One egg contained hormone disrupting substances from plasticizers. Other eggs contained chemicals that are added to plastic to prevent disintegration and color loss.

The shocking research results were presented in Washington DC during a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and have not yet been published. Only a limited amount of eggs were examined. The research group now wants to investigate more eggs, also from birds that breed in areas where they come into contact with plastic much more than in the polar region.

Foto: kilda.org.uk

Also read the news in The Guardian.

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Mussels loose their grip as a result of microplastics

Amsterdam, February 6, 2019 – Mussels attach themselves with thin threads to a hard surface, rock or rope. These byssal threads, or “beards”, are exceptionally strong and elastic and can withstand currents and the wash of waves. The mussels are attached to each other with the same threads, leading to the creation of mussel beds. Mussel beds are of great importance both ecologically and economically.

Irish research, published in Environmental Pollution, has established that blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), which are subjected to polyethylene microplastics for a period of 52 days, loose their grip. Polyethylene is a kind of plastic used for, amongst other things, packaging.  

The strength of the byssal threads was reduced by 50%, and the mussels that were subjected to the microplastics also produced a significantly lower number of threads. Further, the subject mussels were found to have a weakened immune system and metabolism.

Lead researcher Danielle Green warns in The Guardian for the negative effect to the biodiversity of the mussel beds when the mussels wash away as a result of their weakened grip.

This is one of the first studies concerning the damaging effect to the ecosystem. At the end of last year, French researchers showed that chemicals that attach themselves to plastics in seawater, or which leach from plastic, paralyse the defence mechanism of winkles. In this way these shellfish become easier prey for crabs: this, too, disturbs the natural balance.