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Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year

Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year with dozens of particles becoming embedded in tissues, scientists have warned, in findings described as ‘sobering’ by the Prince of Wales.

Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium believe that microplastics accumulate in the body over time and could be a long term health risk.

And they say the amount of plastic absorbed will only get worse as pollution in the oceans increases, a finding described by the Prince of Wales as ‘sobering.’  The Prince has previously described micro-particles as ‘grey goo.’

Dr Colin Janssen, who led the research, said the presence of plastic particles in the body was ‘a concern’.

. . . The study is the first comprehensive risk assessment of its kind. Scientists calculated that more than 99 per cent  of the microplastics pass through the human body – but the rest are taken up by body tissues.

Mussels feed by filtering around 20 litres of seawater a day, ingesting microplastics by accident.

Most are excreted, but on average each mussel contains one tiny fragment lodged in its body tissue. As plastic pollution builds up in the ocean that will increase.

If current trends continue, by the end of the century people who regularly eat seafood could be consuming 780,000 pieces of plastic a year, absorbing 4,000 of them from their digestive systems.

. . . There are more than five trillion pieces of microplastic in the world’s oceans and the equivalent of one rubbish truck of plastic waste is being added to the sea every minute.

By 2050 that will increase to four trucks every minute. The plastic in the ocean will take decades or even centuries to break down into small pieces, but many scientists believe it will never completely disappear.

Featured Image: A larval perch that has ingested microplastic particles, Credit: Oona Lonnstedt  

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Seafood eaters ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year, study shows 

By Sarah Knapton, science editor, The Telegraph

24 January 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/01/24/seafood-eaters-ingest-11000-tiny-pieces-plastic-every-year-study/

‘Extraordinary’ levels of pollutants found in the world’s deepest ocean trenches

Presence of man-made chemicals in most remote place on planet shows nowhere is safe from human impact, say scientists.

Scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet – the 10km deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

Small crustaceans that live in the pitch-black waters of the trench, captured by a robotic submarine, were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in the UK, who led the research.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” he said.

Jamieson’s team identified two key types of severely toxic industrial chemicals that were banned in the late 1970s, but do not break down in the environment, known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These chemicals have previously been found at high levels in Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic and in killer whales and dolphins in western Europe.

The research, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that the POPs infiltrate the deepest parts of the oceans as dead animals and particles of plastic fall downwards. POPs accumulate in fat and are therefore concentrated in creatures up the food chain. They are also water-repellent and so stick to plastic waste.

He said it was not unexpected that some POPs would be found in the deepest parts of the oceans: “When it gets down into the trenches, there is nowhere else for it to go. The surprise was just how high the levels were – the contamination in the animals was sky high.”

. . . The results are both significant and disturbing, said the marine ecologist Katherine Dafforn at the University of New South Wales in Australia and not part of the research team: “The trenches are many miles away from any industrial source and suggests that the delivery of these pollutants occurs over long distances despite regulation since the 1970s.

“We still know more about the surface of the moon than that of the ocean floor,” Dafforn said. She said the new research showed that the deep ocean trenches are not as isolated as people imagine. “Jamieson’s team has provided clear evidence that the deep ocean, rather than being remote, is highly connected to surface waters. Their findings are crucial for future monitoring and management of these unique environments.”

POPs cause a wide range of damage to life, particularly harming reproductive success. Jamieson is now assessing the impact on the hardy trench creatures, which survive water pressures equivalent to balancing a tonne weight on a fingertip and temperatures of just 1C.

He is also examining the deep sea animals for evidence of plastic pollution, feared to be widespread in the oceans, which has been the focus of much recent attention, leading to bans on plastic microbeads in cosmetics in the UK and US. “I reckon it will be there,” he said. . . .

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‘Extraordinary’ levels of pollutants found in 10km deep Mariana trench

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian

March 13, 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/13/extraordinary-levels-of-toxic-pollution-found-in-10km-deep-mariana-trench

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. . . The researchers, from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute in the U.K., focused on two specific types of chemical pollutants: polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, both of which may cause a variety of adverse health effects, including neurological, immune and reproductive issues and even cancer (in humans). PCBs were once commonly used in electrical equipment before being banned over health and environmental concerns in the 1970s. The manufacture and import of PBDEs, which are typically used as flame retardants, has also been restricted in the U.S., although at least one common type of the chemical is still permitted.

Despite the reductions in their use, both PCBs and and PBDEs can still be detected in marine organisms today. Both have the potential to remain intact for long periods of time, often binding to other particles in the water that can then carry them throughout the ocean. They also have a tendency to “bioaccumulate,” meaning they can build up in marine organisms over time. Just last year, a study conducted by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography suggested that certain organic pollutants, including PCBs and PBDEs, are widespread in fish throughout the world.

For the new study, the researchers checked for the presence of these chemicals in two of the world’s deepest ocean trenches — the Mariana trench in the Western Pacific, near the Mariana islands, and the Kermadec trench north of New Zealand.  To do so, the researchers deployed special devices called “deep-sea landers,” which are small vessels that are released from ships and drop to the bottom of the ocean before floating back up to the surface.

Each lander was equipped with special traps designed to catch tiny shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods known to inhabit some of the ocean’s deepest and most extreme environments. Afterwards, the researchers tested the amphipods for the presence of PCBs and PBDEs.

They found that both PCBs and PBDEs were present in all species of amphipod in both trenches, and at all depths sampled — up to 10,000 metres deep in both locations. . .

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‘No longer pristine’: Not even the world’s deepest ocean trenches are free of pollution, scientists discover

By Chelsea Harvey, Washington Post, February 14, 2017

‘No longer pristine’: Not even the world’s deepest ocean trenches are free of pollution, scientists discover

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Banned chemicals from the 70s found in the deepest reaches of the ocean

The University of Aberdeen, February 14, 2017

http://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/10409/

Researchers race to find the source of microplastics choking the world’s oceans

Groundbreaking research into one of the world’s most complex pollution problems is underway at B.C. labs
Scientists are growing increasingly concerned about microplastics in water and in the food chain, but they face some daunting challenges in the race to uncover the sources of the problem.

“We’re encountering a pollutant unlike any pollutant we’ve ever seen before,” says Dr. Peter Ross, director of ocean pollution research at the Vancouver Aquarium. “This is not a chemical pollutant, it’s a structural pollutant.”

Recent samples his team have taken off the B.C. coast contained up to 25,000 plastic particles and fibres in just one cubic metre of water.

Yes, some of it comes from plastic bags, foam packaging, cigarette butts and other remnants of the millions of tonnes of plastic debris slowly breaking down in the world’s oceans.

But there are some surprising sources, too, like laundry.

“A single sweater could release as much as 10,000 particles of microplastic fibres,” said Ross.

“That’s getting into the wastewater stream, and you have a million or two million people doing such laundry — it adds up.”

Sewage treatment plants may hold answers

But no one knows yet how washing your favourite fleece jacket fits into the bigger picture.

To find out, Ross is working with sewage treatment plants to measure the number and types of fibres in the water coming in, and later sampling the treated water as it flows out into the Fraser River to compare.

What they find could lead to changes in filtering techniques at treatment plants.

Water sampling is also being done out in the open ocean, revealing a mix of fibres and other microplastics, defined as anything smaller than five millimetres in size.

It’s a global issue, so everyone has an interest in reducing the amount of plastic being added to the world’s waterways. One estimate puts it at the equivalent of a garbage truckload every minute. At this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

To home in on the problem, technicians at the Vancouver Aquarium lab recently began using a $325,000 infrared spectrometer like the kind usually found in crime labs.

It can identify the type of plastic from tiny samples.

‘It’s not going to give us the exact fingerprint,” says Ross. “It won’t say ‘Walmart fleece made in China,’ but it will confirm it is plastic, give us the category, tell us about additives and sometimes actually a manufacturer.”

. . .

Featured image:

This water sample taken by researchers in B.C.’s Strait of Georgia contained an average of 3,200 plastic particles per cubic metre of ocean. Other samples off Vancouver contained up to 25,000 particles. (Vancouver Aquarium)

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B.C. researchers race to find the source of microplastics choking the world’s oceans

By Greg Rasmussen, CBC NEWS, March 11, 2017

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-microplastics-research-1.4017502