Tag Archives: microplastic

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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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

Plastiglomerates: The Beaches of Hawaii Yield a New Type of Stone

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

We’re all familiar with our impact on the planet – the changes we cause on the chemical composition of the atmosphere through deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, the spread of invasive species caused by the removal of biogeographical barriers, the destruction of coral reefs due to overfishing and ocean acidification, the pollution of oceans and lakes by discarded plastics. The list goes on and on.

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