Plastic Pollution and Oceans, When a Big Problem is Small.
Everyone knows that the oceans are becoming more and more choked up with plastic pollution every day. It is unsightly, causes damage to the ecosystem and it's wildlife. But few people are aware of one of the most looming dangers of plastic pollution, the existence of Microplastics.
What are they?
Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic that have been broken apart from larger pieces of weathered plastic; the term includes microbeads from facial cleansers, and fibers from synthetic fabrics. Essentially, plastics never disappear They simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces that maintain the same structure and chemistry as the original item. This is what is meant when it says plastics DECOMPOSE and not BIO-DEGRADE.
Where do they come from?
Microplastics enter the environment in several ways. No matter the method, they are essentially created when smaller pieces of plastics break off from larger pieces. Here are some common methods :
Plastic waste which is found in the environment, particularly the oceans, is subject to tidal and other forces which slowly grind it down into smaller and smaller pieces.
Clothing and other linens made from synthetic fibers (such as nylon and rayon) will shed these particles when laundered and agitated. Since these artificial fibers are essentially made from plastics, their decomposition results in the creation of microplastics. These particles then enter the wastewater stream, where modern filtration equipment cannot filter them. Therefore, they wind up being discharged into the environment and working their way into the groundwater.
Microbeads. Perhaps you have heard advertising before about products containing microbeads," which are microscopic pieces of polyethylene that are meant to improve the exfoliant or other properties of many skin, hair care products and cleaning products. As they are washed down the drain, these beads quickly become microplastics in the wastewater stream. Fortunately, a law signed by Pres. Obama in 2015 (the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015) forbade their use.
These are three of the most common ways to create microplastics.
A few disturbing facts!
Microplastics are amongst the least studied of environmental issues in modern environmental science. There are a number of indicators, however, that more attention should be brought to bear, sooner, on this issue.
A study, published in 2018, found Microplastic contamination 90% of Table Salt brands.
Another 2018 study, found microplastics present in over 90% of branded water bottles.
Studies have shown that the beaches of Northern Cypress contain possibly the highest concentrations of microplastic contamination of any beaches studied. These beaches are some of the most important nesting locations of Marine Sea Turtles.
National Geographic chronicled a study which showed microplastics present in HUMAN FECES for the first time ever!
A 2017 Study determined that nearly 99% of plastic introduced into the oceans has degraded to become microplastics.
Why should we be concerned?
Aside from the thought that willingly ingesting tiny pieces of plastic is not a natural act? Although the full extent of health issues has yet to be studied or even discovered, we are aware of a few concerns.
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) Has begun to conduct research on microplastic ingestion and transmission from the smallest animals, Zooplankton, up through larger and larger predators. They have already detailed a number of negative effects the particles have on the Zooplankton that ingest them.
When plastics decompose, they also release toxic chemicals that may harm organisms at the cellular level. These toxic chemicals may be absorbed by, and stored in, fat cells and appear to affect the biological and brain functions of higher evolved species.
Microplastics, as well as rayon, nylon, and synthetic fibers were found in samples of Mussels being sold in U.K. Fish Markets.
And there are many other examples of concerning and surprising facts and research that should lead to alarm bells going off throughout the scientific and medical communities.
It has often been said that the first step in solving a problem is knowing about it. We know about this one. Surely, the next step is understanding it? Which is where we find ourselves. Preferably before this looming iceberg of a problem becomes too large to ignore, we must dedicate some time and research to understanding microplastics, how they act, and what their harmful effects are. Only then can we begin to formulate a strategy and plan of action to remove them from our environment and bodies.
Until that time, we need to reinforce our resolve in being good stewards of the planet, practicing sound eco-principles, and learning what we can to change our behaviors that can help minimize the drastic effects of this problem on our children and future generations.
Microplastics Are Everywhere And Researchers Are Racing To Discover What Dangers They Might Pose, by Elfy Scott (Buzzfeed Staff), 20 Nov 2018
What are microplastics? NOAA Website
Turtles exposed to record levels of microplastics on Mediterranean beaches by Nora Ward on 23 November 2018
Moving forward with microplastics research by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, 14 Nov 1918.
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