Category Archives: Toxicology

Small but Mighty: New Research on the Impacts of Microplastics

A guest post by Erica K. Brockmeier

The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.

What are microplastics and why should we care about them?

Microplastics are pieces of plastic or polymer debris that are very small in size, ranging from a shard as narrow as the width of a hair to a piece as large as a marble. Microplastics include pieces of plastic that are broken down from larger items, such as single-use water bottles, or ‘microbeads’ that are added to certain soaps and exfoliators.

Even though microplastics are small, there are concerns they can cause serious damage. Animals that confuse microplastics for food can end up with internal lacerations, inflammation, and nutrient deficiency caused by eating too much inedible material. Microplastics are also widely spread across the globe—scientists calculated that up to 90% of marine birds have ingested microplastics.

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Microplastic particles among sand grains. Credit: 5Gyres, courtesy of Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Pesticides and Pollinators: New Research on the Impacts of Farming Activities on Bee Populations

A guest post by Erica K. Brockmeier

The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.

Are pesticides hurting pollinators?

The widespread loss of honeybee populations in Europe and the reduced numbers of wild bees in other countries sparked concern among scientists, policymakers, and farmers all across the world. Recent research conducted on historical field data found a potential connection between the use of certain insecticides and changes in wild bee populations. This was especially true for species that are known to visit flowering crops like oil seed rape.

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Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on oil seed rape, England (cropped from original). Credit: Dean Morley, CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Linking Oceans and Human Health: How Are We Connected?

A guest post by Erica K. Brockmeier

The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.

Why does oceans health matter?

Oceans provide more for us than just the backdrop of our annual summer holidays—they provide food and medicine, help connect people and provide a means to deliver materials across the world, are a source of economic growth for coastal communities, and help moderate climate change. But our strong connection to the marine environment also comes with some drawbacks. Seafood contamination, marine pollution, biological hazards such as red tides and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and rising sea levels are just a few of the examples of how our own health is closely linked to that of our environment. Continue reading

Insidious Danger: Microplastics Pollute Aquatic Life and Harm Our Food Supply

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microplastics—the tiny bits of plastic that are now infamously and ubiquitously present in the world’s waterways—are polluting aquatic life and ending up in our food supply. As evidence of the damage that microplastics inflict on aquatic life accumulates, so does the amount of microplastics dispersed in oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. Virtually indestructible in natural environments, these tiny bits of plastic contain a combination of very small particles—microparticles and nanoparticles—that derive from the breakdown of larger plastic items, for example plastic bags and bottles, and include, among others, pre-production plastic pellets (the so-called nurdles), microbeads from personal care products, and microfibers from textiles.

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The “Microbead-Free Waters Act”: Saying Goodbye to the Tiny Plastic Fragments That Pollute Our Waterways

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Microplastics, including microbeads. Credit: MPCA Photos, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microbeads—tiny, plastic beads added to face scrubs, soap, toothpaste, and the like—cause environmental damage at the macro scale. Their function is to provide a bit of grit, but they end up in lakes, rivers, and other aquatic habitats. Once there, microbeads are mistaken for food and gobbled up by zooplankton, thus becoming incorporated into the aquatic food chain. Small fish, and other organisms that swallow the contaminated zooplankton, are eaten by bigger fish and eventually, microbeads make their way to the top of the food chain, reaching other wildlife and even humans. However, there is more to this story. Continue reading

Clean Power Plan, New Ozone Standard, and Asthma

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Out with the old: Syncrude facility. Credit: Pembina Institute, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On August 3, 2015, the Obama administration announced the finalized US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Clean Power Plan.” The plan has been developed under the Clean Air Act and aims to slash carbon emissions from US power plants, which account for one-third of all carbon emissions in the country, by giving each state an individual goal for cutting these emissions. The EPA estimates that the new national standards will significantly decrease carbon pollution produced by the electric sector by 2030; carbon emissions will be 32% lower than the 2005 levels. For a step-by-step guide on how the Clean Power Plan works, head here. Continue reading

Fracking and Groundwater Contamination: The Known and the Unknowns

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Peak oil, or peak water? Peak water might be the (unfortunate) answer. Alternative sources of energy may become more widely available, but there are no alternatives to water. The ongoing depletion of groundwater contained in aquifers—one of the most important sources of water on our planet—is a significant threat to our future. Many countries are already near or beyond peak water, and results from recent studies show that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater all too quickly, without knowing when it might run out. Continue reading