Microplastics

Newsday: How the plastic particles from Long Island Sound can end up in your body.

Scientists who collected water samples along the length of Long Island Sound discovered that they contained almost all microplastics. These are tiny pieces of debris, smaller than a pencil-sized eraser.

Several studies have shown that microplastics are harmful to the marine environment and human health.

Researchers from Staffordshire University, Central Wyoming College, and Rozalia Project For A Clean Ocean, an NGO, collected samples in Long Island Sound every 3 miles, from New York City up to Fishers Island. They used a filter which captures particles smaller than 6 micrometers – the size of a hair. The study began in 2016. It was published early this year.

The researchers found high concentrations in the western and eastern ends, which are narrower. This may indicate a bottleneck. The microplastics were found everywhere. Waters near densely-populated areas, and along the less developed East End were contaminated. No body of water was untouched by petrochemical waste, which is found in the hundreds of trillions, or more, of petrochemicals, all over the world, from the Arctic Ocean down to the Caribbean Sea.

According to Ocean Conservancy’s estimates, 11 million metric tonnes of plastic are dumped in the oceans each year. Nearly all of this plastic originates on land. These billions of plastics – Styrofoam, PET, nylon, fishing ropes and polyethylene bags – shed fragments when they are battered with the sun and the waves. The particles may be broken down to ever smaller, microscopic ones, but the plastics will never biodegrade. They will remain in the oceans of the world forever.

Rachael M. Miller, cofounder of Rozalia Project, and the lead author of this study said: “The oceans form the basis of all life on our planet.” All that enters oceans enters all branches of the food chain, from plankton up to humans.

The chemicals and microplastics added to them were found in marine animals around the world, including gentoo Penguins in the Indian Ocean’s southernmost region to slipper snails living in Long Island Sound.

In a study of seabirds in 16 locations including the Galapagos Islands and islands in sub-Antarctic waters and the Sea of Japan, nearly half of the birds tested positive to chemicals added to plastics such as UV stabilizers and flame retardants. Some of these additives can be endocrine disruptions, which can interfere in growth and reproduction.

Small organisms, such as zooplankton, fish larvae, and crustaceans, finfish and shellfish, ingest plastic pieces at the bottom of the food-chain. Animals can starve to death if their stomachs are filled with non-nutritive waste.

According to Luis Medina Faull of the Stony Brook University marine sciences department, the plastic particles do not remain in the digestive system. They pass through into other tissues.

In recent years, several studies have shown that microplastics can cause damage to fish’s intestines as well as their liver, gills, and brain. They also disrupt the metabolic balance and behavior of the fish.

The plastic is not just absorbed by the stomach when humans eat fish. Human blood, lungs and livers contain microplastics. Even placentas, breast milk and other bodily fluids can contain microplastics.

Miller explained that even those who don’t eat seafood are still prone to ingesting plastics. Researchers have found them “pretty well everywhere” they’ve looked, Miller said. This includes bottled water and other products like chicken, honey, egg, beer, and household dust.

Evidence is mounting that these little invaders are not benign. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, patients with microplastics within their arterial plaque – a buildup of substances along the walls of arteries – were four and a half times more likely than other patients to suffer a heart attack or stroke in the three years following their artery clearing surgery.

It is clear that many studies on microplastics have understated the issue. The majority of studies use net tows that can capture pieces as small 300 micrometers. A human hair is between 20 and 200 micrometers. Medina’s team used Raman microspectroscopy to analyze water from three different locations: the Gulf Coast of Venezuela, the Pacific Arctic, and off the Venezuelan coastline. They found that 60% of particles were smaller than five micrometers. Some particles were as small as one micrometer. This is about the same size as a typical bacteria.

Plastic that is carried by the oceans can harm the marine ecosystem, the health of the planet and even the individual organisms who ingest it.

Medina Faull: “We tend not to see the connections between the issues, but everything is connected when we talk about the marine environment.”

Plastics in water absorb heat and cause ocean warming, causing coral bleaching and marine species to die off around the world. He said that the warming effect from plastics in the Arctic Ocean “melts the snow faster”, accelerating global warming feedback loop.

Researchers found that 97% of their samples taken from Long Island Sound contained microplastics. They wanted to know where the microplastics were accumulating and which of the thousands of petrochemical-derived products were contributing to the plastic soup along the Island’s shores.

After sorting their samples, they found that 34 of the material was fibers. Then they sorted the samples by color, fiber type, width (which differentiates polyester carpet from board shorts for example), shape, and other characteristics.

Miller stated that “the majority of fibers we found” are most likely to be from the fashion industry. They were probably from clothes we wear.

When a garment gets washed, it sheds small fragments that are too small to get caught by the screens in wastewater treatment plants. In the dryer, more bits are shed. Some are caught in the lint filter, others are flung up into the air and are then washed or deposited into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Environmentalists such as Judith Enck – an EPA administrator during the Obama administration, and founder of Beyond Plastics – believe that the only way to prevent plastics from entering waterways is by stopping the production of plastic.

Enck, speaking to Newsday, said: “We need to look for alternatives to plastics, especially for items that are often littered, such as bottles, food wrappings, and cigarette butts.” Glass, metal and cardboard are all available today. “And unlike plastic, these things are recyclable.”

Enck supports “polluter-pays” laws, which make companies responsible for the waste products they use and produce. The state Senate passed a law last month that would have required companies to reduce the use of single-use disposable plastics by 30 percent over the next twelve years. However, time ran out and the Assembly was unable to vote on the bill. Plastics, chemical and fuel industries opposed the bill.

The Plastics Industry Association has not responded to a comment request.

Marine scientists agree that reducing microplastics will be a huge challenge. Medina Faull stated that plastic is used for almost everything. The question is, “How can we make materials as cheap as the plastic and can they be produced in mass?”

He added, “We must do this as quickly as possible.”

Scientists who collected water samples along the length of Long Island Sound discovered that they contained almost all microplastics. These are tiny pieces of debris, smaller than a pencil-sized eraser.

Several studies have shown that microplastics are harmful to the marine environment and human health.

Researchers from Staffordshire University, Central Wyoming College, and Rozalia Project For A Clean Ocean, an NGO, collected samples in Long Island Sound every 3 miles, from New York City up to Fishers Island. They used a filter which captures particles smaller than 6 micrometers – the size of a hair. The study began in 2016. It was published early this year.

The researchers found high concentrations in the western and eastern ends, which are narrower. This may indicate a bottleneck. The microplastics were found everywhere. Waters near densely-populated areas, and along the less developed East End were contaminated. No body of water was untouched by petrochemical waste, which is found in the hundreds of trillions, or more, of petrochemicals, all over the world, from the Arctic Ocean down to the Caribbean Sea.

In Long Island Sound, a study found that microplastics are present in high concentrations. The measurements are based on total pollution per liter. The measurements reflect total pollution per liter.

According to Ocean Conservancy’s estimates, 11 million metric tonnes of plastic are dumped in the oceans each year. Nearly all of this plastic originates on land. These billions of plastics – Styrofoam, PET, nylon, fishing ropes and polyethylene bags – shed fragments when they are beaten by the sun and the waves. The particles may be broken down to ever smaller, microscopic ones, but the plastics will never biodegrade. They will remain in the oceans of the world forever.

Rachael M. Miller, cofounder of Rozalia Project and principal author of the study, said: “The oceans form the basis of all life on our planet.” All that enters oceans enters all branches of the food chain, from plankton up to humans.

What is the harm?

The chemicals and microplastics added to them were found in marine animals around the world, including gentoo Penguins in the Indian Ocean’s southernmost region to slipper snails living in Long Island Sound.

In a study of seabirds in 16 locations including the Galapagos Islands and islands in sub-Antarctic waters and the Sea of Japan, nearly half of the birds tested positive to chemicals added to plastics such as UV stabilizers and flame retardants. Some of these additives can be endocrine disruptions, which can interfere in growth and reproduction.

Small organisms, such as zooplankton, fish larvae, and crustaceans, finfish and shellfish, ingest plastic pieces at the bottom of the food-chain. Animals can starve to death if their stomachs are filled with non-nutritive waste.

According to Luis Medina Faull of the Stony Brook University marine sciences department, the plastic particles do not remain in the digestive system. They pass through into other tissues.

In recent years, several studies have shown that microplastics can cause damage to fish’s intestines as well as their liver, gills, and brain. They also disrupt the metabolic balance and behavior of the fish.

The plastic is not just absorbed by the stomach when humans eat fish. Human blood, lungs and livers contain microplastics. Even placentas, breast milk and other bodily fluids can contain microplastics.

Miller explained that even those who don’t eat seafood are still prone to ingesting plastics. Researchers have found them “pretty well everywhere” they’ve looked, Miller said. This includes bottled water and other products like chicken, honey, egg, beer, and household dust.

Evidence is mounting that these little invaders are not benign. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, patients with microplastics within their arterial plaque – a buildup of substances lining up the walls of arteries – were four and a half times more likely than other patients to suffer a heart attack or stroke in the three years following their artery clearing surgery.

It is clear that many studies on microplastics have understated the issue. The majority of studies use net tows that can capture pieces as small 300 micrometers. A human hair is between 20 and 200 micrometers. Medina’s team used Raman microspectroscopy to analyze water from three different locations: the Gulf Coast of Venezuela, the Pacific Arctic, and the Venezuelan coastline. They found that 60% of particles were smaller than five micrometers. Some particles were as small at 1 micrometers, which is about the same size as a typical bacteria.

Plastic that is carried by the oceans can harm the marine ecosystem, the health of the planet and even the individual organisms who ingest it.

Medina Faull: “We tend not to see the connections between the issues, but everything is connected when we talk about the marine environment.”

Plastics in water absorb heat and cause oceans to warm, causing coral bleaching and marine species die-offs around the world. He said that the warming effect from plastics in the Arctic Ocean “is melting snow more quickly.” This is accelerating the feedback cycle of global climate change.

Sound: From the washing machine to the Sound

Researchers found that 97% of their samples taken from Long Island Sound contained microplastics. They wanted to know where the microplastics were accumulating and which of the thousands of petrochemical-derived products were contributing to the plastic soup along the Island’s shores.

After sorting their samples, they found that 34 of the material was fiber. Then they sorted the samples by color, fiber type, width (which differentiates polyester carpet from board shorts for example), shape, and other characteristics.

Miller stated that “the majority of fibers we found” are most likely to be from the fashion industry. They were probably from clothes we wear.

When a garment gets washed, it sheds small fragments that are too small to get caught by the screens in wastewater treatment plants. In the dryer, more bits are shed. Some are caught in the lint filter, others are thrown into the air and settle down or wash into rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Environmentalists such as Judith Enck – an EPA administrator during the Obama administration, and founder of Beyond Plastics – believe that the only way to prevent plastics from entering waterways is by stopping the production of plastic.

Enck, speaking to Newsday, said: “We need to look for alternatives to plastics, especially for items that are often littered, such as bottles, food wrappings, and cigarette butts.” Glass, metal and cardboard are all available today. “And unlike plastic, these things are recyclable.”

Enck supports “polluter-pays” laws, which make companies responsible for the waste products they use and produce. The state Senate passed a law last month that would have required companies to reduce the use of single-use disposable plastics by 30 percent over the next twelve years. However, time ran out and the Assembly was unable to vote on the bill. Plastics, chemical and fuel industries opposed the bill.

The Plastics Industry Association has not responded to a comment request.

Marine scientists agree that reducing microplastic pollution will be a huge challenge. Medina Faull stated that plastic is used for almost everything. The question is, “How can we make materials as cheap as the plastic and can they be produced in mass?”

He added, “We must do this as quickly as possible.”

Reduce microplastic pollution

According to a peer-reviewed study published in the journal PLoS ONE last year, there are already between 82 trillion and 358,000 trillion pieces of plastic floating at the surface of the oceans. Experts believe it is vital to reduce the production of plastics of all types and keep them out of Earth’s waters.

Environmentalists will continue to push for the passage of a law in New York that will force businesses to reduce the use single-use plastics. The Senate passed the bill in June. The bill was not voted on by the Assembly prior to the end of the session.

Designers and engineers who are forward-looking have developed fabrics that perform like synthetics, but are made from biodegradable material. Stella McCartney’s spring collection featured a fabric made mostly from seaweed called Kelsun.

The polyester that is on store shelves will not disappear anytime soon. Madeleine MacGillivray of the environmental justice organization Seeding Sovereignty said that fabric can be treated to allow microbes digest the synthetic fibers so that they decompose as naturally fibers in landfills and waterways.

There are some steps that individuals can take to reduce their exposure to microplastics and the environmental harm they cause.

  • You can also find household products packaged in paper: dissolving detergent sheets, bar shampoos and toothpaste tablets. They are also made without harmful chemicals such as PFAS.
  • Try using products that capture microfibers that are shed by the washing machine, such as filters attached to the outlet hose or balls that catch the fibers when they move around in the laundry.
  • When you are in the market to buy a new washing machine, consider a front-loader. They shed less than top-loaders, and your clothes will last longer. You can also reduce fiber loss by washing your clothes with cold water. Clean the lint screen of your dryer after each load. Once the vent is clogged with fibers, they will just fly out.
  • Rachael Miller, co-founder and founder of Rozalia for a Clean ocean, says that you should wear natural fibers whenever possible. Avoid fleece as it sheds the most.
  • Avoid drinking plastic-bottled water. According to a study , water bottles are the biggest source of ocean waste. Those who drink mostly bottled water also consume twice as much microplastic as those who drink from the tap.
  • Plastics such as bottles, straws and cigarette butts should be properly disposed of in the garbage.