Posts

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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.

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ECHA proposes to ban intentionally added microplastics

BEAT THE MICROBEAD COALITION: “THIS IS A HUGE VICTORY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN HEALTH!”

Amsterdam, 30 January 2019 – The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) proposed today, on request of the European Commission, to ban intentionally added microplastics in cosmetics, detergents, paints, agricultural and industrial products. These microplastics are released into the environment and pose a risk to the environment and human health. According to ECHA, an EU-wide ban is justified.  

The Beat the Microbead coalition, running since 2012 and supported by 98 NGOs from 41 countries, is delighted with ECHA’s proposal. Jeroen Dagevos, Head of Programs at the Plastic Soup Foundation and leader of the Beat the Microbead campaign: “We consider the proposal by ECHA to restrict intentionally added microplastics as a big step forward in controlling the microplastic menace.” 

The Beat the Microbead coalition also welcomes the obligation for industry to be transparent about potential risks and to introduce new labelling requirements. Industry’s argument that a ban should be restricted to scrubs and cleansing products only is rightfully rejected by ECHA.

If adopted, the proposed restriction could result in a microplastics emissions reduction of about 400 thousand tonnes over 20 years.

Dagevos: “We are especially happy with the fact that ECHA recommends microplastics to be treated in the same way as persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic substances are treated within REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of Chemicals).”

REACH is currently the strictest chemical regulation in the world.

Intentionally added microplastics are likely to accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic environments. They can be extremely persistent, last for thousands of years and are practically impossible to remove. Concentrations in hotspots like some coastal areas already exceed tentative effect thresholds. Microplastics should therefore be restricted to minimize release as the current situation is not adequately controlled

“Of course,” says Dagevos, “there are also a few points of criticism:

  • The transition period of 4-years and 6-years for rinse-off and leave-on cosmetics respectively, is much too long. Alternatives to microplastic ingredients are widely available on the market. More than 60 brands under our ‘Zero Plastic Inside’ certification prove that it is possible to make quality products without adding microplastic ingredients.  
  • We would not prefer a lower size limit in the definition of microplastics of 1 nanometer. Especially, because nano-plastics are increasingly considered as a risk to marine and terrestrial life, including humans.
  • We regret the exclusion of semi-solid and liquid polymers, which we consider as a possible threat for human health.”

Dagevos: “But above all, we call upon the European Commission to fully adopt the ECHA proposal and also hope it will inspire other countries around the world to follow”.  

Notes:

See: ECHA proposes to restrict intentionally added microplastics

See also: the video released by ECHA at the end of 2018

See also: our previous position paper concerning regulation microplastics: The BTMB campaign demands restriction of all intentionally added microplastics under REACH  

See also:  our test on microplastics in so called ‘stay on’ products like lipstick, nail polish here!

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Extensive loss of pellets at sea remains without sanctions

Plastic Soup Foundation organizes a pellet count in the Netherlands

Amsterdam, 28 January 2019 – At the start of this month freighter MSC Zoe lost at least 292 containers, some of which were filled with pellets. Pellets, also called nurdles and no more than 5 millimeters big, are used to make plastic products. The beach of Schiermonnikoog was covered with millions of these plastic granules. Because they can have a huge ecological impact on the fragile nature of the mudflats, the University of Groningen is investigating where they ended up. Contrary to larger pieces of plastic, these pellets can barely be cleaned up.

Unfortunately, the loss of the millions of pellets on the Wadden Sea wasn’t an exception. In October 2017 nurdles from two cargo ships entered the ocean near the South African harbor town of Durban, after which a massive amount washed ashore. Furthermore, a recent Danish report shows that an extraordinary number of pellets were found in the environment around Danish plastic factories – the royal warrant holders of Lego. In May 2018 around 450.000 pellets were found on just one beach in Scotland; twelve miles from the Ineos Polymers factory where they are produced. And in 2016 English consultant Eunomia calculated that up to 53 billion plastic pellets are lost and end up in the environment in the United Kingdom alone.

It is not surprising that pellet loss is considered to be one of the major causes of the plastic soup. Yet there is no national or international organization monitoring it. Because this has actually been a known problem for a long time, plastic manufacturers have voluntarily united in Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). By its own account, this industrial initiative applies the best possible practices to prevent pellets from ending up in the ocean. But basically, the industry has free rein and is never fined or confronted. The past 25 years the OCS has also never had to publicly show their accountability. MacKerron, vice president of the American NGO As You Sow: “Operation Clean Sweep provides no transparency on the scope and nature of spills or efforts made to clean up. Given what we know about the alarming rates of plastic leakage into oceans, companies can no longer hide behind vague pledges of best practices. They need to provide prompt and detailed disclosure about specific actions taken to prevent spills, and when spills occur, information on spill size, and actions taken to clean up.”

As You Sow has called to account the American pellet manufacturers Chevron, DowDupont, ExxonMobil and Philips 66 during shareholders’ meetings, and have demanded the creation of at least yearly reports that map the spills, describe which measures have been taken and how the spills were cleaned up.

It is extremely important to gather evidence, so we can enforce measures that lead to the industry taking care of transport without pellet loss. Where and in what concentrations are the pellets found on coastlines and shores? Everyone can simply help build this data with a smartphone, whether alone or in a group. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt takes place between Friday 8 and Sunday 17 February.

With that in mind The Plastic Soup Foundation will organize various pellet counts in the Netherlands that week, at new and still secret hot spot locations in places such as Zeeland and Limburg. Join us and sign up by e-mailing michielp@plasticsoupfoundation.org. You will then receive more information on dates, times and locations.

The plastic soup is also a planetary boundary

Amsterdam, 16 January 2019 – The oceans are under pressure due to the increase of the plastic soup. Plastic affects not just individual animals, but also penetrates food chains. An important question is whether the plastic soup has a critical limit. The Stockholm Resilience Centre has indicated nine planetary boundaries for the Earth, among which climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, and chemical pollution. When these planetary boundaries are exceeded, ecological restoration is almost impossible. Plastic pollution is not yet in this list.

Scientists have recently argued that plastic soup should also be one of the planetary boundaries. At least two of the three criteria for the planetary boundary of chemical pollution are also valid for the plastic soup: plastic in the environment is irreversible (it is not or hardly possible to clean up, particularly the microplastics) and plastic is present everywhere (and the concentration increases). The third criterion is the disruptive effect on marine ecosystems, or even wider: the effect on System Earth. To date, the question how the plastic soup affects this system, remains unanswered. To that end, it first needs to be determined how exactly this effect can be established. But, according to the researchers, plastic pollution certainly has all kinds of ecological consequences and hence there is every reason to believe that plastic also has or will have a negative effect on System Earth.

The researchers have also a pragmatic reason to include the plastic soup in the widely accepted framework of the planetary boundaries. It will then presumably be easier to reach agreement on the international approach; curbing the plastic soup internationally has not been successful yet.