Persistent organic pollutants in fat of three species of Pacific pelagic longline caught sea turtles: Accumulation in relation to ingested plastic marine debris

Image 2In addition to eating contaminated prey, sea turtles may be exposed to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from ingesting plastic debris that has absorbed these chemicals. Given the limited knowledge about POPs in pelagic sea turtles and how plastic ingestion influences POP exposure, our objectives were to: 1) provide baseline contaminant levels of three species of pelagic Pacific sea turtles; and 2) assess trends of contaminant levels in relation to species, sex, length, body condition and capture location. In addition, we hypothesized that if ingesting plastic is a significant source of POP exposure, then the amount of ingested plastic may be correlated to POP concentrations accumulated in fat. To address our objectives we compared POP concentrations in fat samples to previously described amounts of ingested plastic from the same turtles. Fat samples from 25 Pacific pelagic sea turtles [2 loggerhead (Caretta caretta), 6 green (Chelonia mydas) and 17 olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles] were analyzed for 81 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 20 organochlorine pesticides, and 35 brominated flame-retardants. The olive ridley and loggerhead turtles had higher ΣDDTs (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and metabolites) than ΣPCBs, at a ratio similar to biota measured in the South China Sea and southern California. Green turtles had a ratio close to 1:1. These pelagic turtles had lower POP levels than previously reported in nearshore turtles. POP concentrations were unrelated to the amounts of ingested plastic in olive ridleys, suggesting that their exposure to POPs is mainly through prey. In green turtles, concentrations of ΣPCBs were positively correlated with the number of plastic pieces ingested, but these findings were confounded by covariance with body condition index (BCI). Green turtles with a higher BCI had eaten more plastic and also had higher POPs. Taken together, our findings suggest that sea turtles accumulate most POPs through their prey rather than marine debris.

Katharine E. Clukey, Christopher A. Lepczyk, George H. Balazs and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 610–611, 1 January 2018, Pages 402-411

The article


Occurrences of organophosphorus esters and phthalates in the microplastics from the coastal beaches in north China

Chemical pollution in the microplastics has been concerned worldwide as pollutants might potentially transfer from the environment to living organisms via plastics. Here, we investigate organophosphorus esters (OPEs) and phthalic acid esters (PAEs) in the beached microplastics collected from 28 coastal beaches of the Bohai and Yellow Sea in north China. The analyzed microplastics included polyethylene (PE) pellets and fragments, polypropylene (PP) flakes and fragments and polystyrene (PS) foams. The tris-(2-chloroethyl)-phosphate (TCEP), tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCPP) and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) were the three predominant compounds found overall. The maximum Σ4 OPEs concentration was 84,595.9 ng g− 1, almost three orders of magnitude higher than the maximum Σ9 PAEs concentration. The PP flakes and PS foams contained the highest concentrations of the additives in contrast to the PE pellets which contained the lowest. The high concentration level of carcinogenic chlorinated OPEs and DEHP with endocrine disrupting effects implied the suggested potential hazards to coastal organisms. Spatial differences and compositional variation of the additives among the different microplastics suggests different origins and residence times in the coastal environment. This indicates that the characteristics of chemical additives might be a useful approach when tracing sources of microplastics in the environment.

Haibo Zhang, Qian Zhou, Zhiyong Xie and al., Science of The Total Environment, Available online 28 October 2017, In Press

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Molecular identification of polymers and anthropogenic particles extracted from oceanic water and fish stomach – A Raman micro-spectroscopy study

Pacific Ocean trawl samples, stomach contents of laboratory-raised fish as well as fish from the subtropical gyres were analyzed by Raman micro-spectroscopy (RMS) to identify polymer residues and any detectable persistent organic pollutants (POP). The goal was to access specific molecular information at the individual particle level in order to identify polymer debris in the natural environment. The identification process was aided by a laboratory generated automated fluorescence removal algorithm. Pacific Ocean trawl samples of plastic debris associated with fish collection sites were analyzed to determine the types of polymers commonly present. Subsequently, stomach contents of fish from these locations were analyzed for ingested polymer debris. Extraction of polymer debris from fish stomach using KOH versus ultrapure water were evaluated to determine the optimal method of extraction. Pulsed ultrasonic extraction in ultrapure water was determined to be the method of choice for extraction with minimal chemical intrusion. The Pacific Ocean trawl samples yielded primarily polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) particles >1 mm, PE being the most prevalent type. Additional microplastic residues (1 mm – 10 μm) extracted by filtration, included a polystyrene (PS) particle in addition to PE and PP. Flame retardant, deca-BDE was tentatively identified on some of the PP trawl particles. Polymer residues were also extracted from the stomachs of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean fish. Two types of polymer related debris were identified in the Atlantic Ocean fish: (1) polymer fragments and (2) fragments with combined polymer and fatty acid signatures. In terms of polymer fragments, only PE and PP were detected in the fish stomachs from both locations. A variety of particles were extracted from oceanic fish as potential plastic pieces based on optical examination. However, subsequent RMS examination identified them as various non-plastic fragments, highlighting the importance of chemical analysis in distinguishing between polymer and non-polymer residues.

Sutapa Ghosal, Michael Chen, Jeff Wagner, Zhong-Min Wang, Stephen Wall, Environmental Pollution, Available online 13 October 2017, In Press

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An overview of chemical additives present in plastics: Migration, release, fate and environmental impact during their use, disposal and recycling

Over the last 60 years plastics production has increased manifold, owing to their inexpensive, multipurpose, durable and lightweight nature. These characteristics have raised the demand for plastic materials that will continue to grow over the coming years. However, with increased plastic materials production, comes increased plastic material wastage creating a number of challenges, as well as opportunities to the waste management industry. The present overview highlights the waste management and pollution challenges, emphasising on the various chemical substances (known as “additives”) contained in all plastic products for enhancing polymer properties and prolonging their life. Despite how useful these additives are in the functionality of polymer products, their potential to contaminate soil, air, water and food is widely documented in literature and described herein. These additives can potentially migrate and undesirably lead to human exposure via e.g. food contact materials, such as packaging. They can, also, be released from plastics during the various recycling and recovery processes and from the products produced from recyclates. Thus, sound recycling has to be performed in such a way as to ensure that emission of substances of high concern and contamination of recycled products is avoided, ensuring environmental and human health protection, at all times.

John N. Hahladakis, Costas A. Velis, Roland Weber, Eleni Iacovidou, Phil Purnell, Journal of Hazardous Materials, Volume 344, 15 February 2018, Pages 179-199

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Biodegradability of plastics: challenges and misconceptions

Plastics are one of the most widely used materials and, in most cases, they are designed to have long life times. Thus, plastics contain a complex blend of stabilizers that prevent them from degrading too quickly. Unfortunately, many of the most advantageous properties of plastics such as their chemical, physical and biological inertness and durability present challenges when plastic is released into the environment. Common plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are extremely persistent in the environment, where they undergo very slow fragmentation (projected to take centuries) into small particles through photo-, physical, and biological degradation processes1. The fragmentation of the material into increasingly smaller pieces is an unavoidable stage of the degradation process. Ultimately, plastic materials degrade to micron-sized particles (microplastics), which are persistent in the environment and present a potential source of harm for organisms.

Stephan Kubowicz and Andy M. Booth, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, October 12, 2017

Ingestion of microplastics by freshwater Tubifex worms

Microplastic contamination of the aquatic environment is a global issue. Microplastics can be ingested by organisms leading to negative physiological impacts. The ingestion of microplastics by freshwater invertebrates has not been reported outside the laboratory. Here we demonstrate the ingestion of microplastic particles by Tubifex tubifex in a major urban waterbody fed by the River Irwell, Manchester, UK. The host sediments had microplastic concentrations ranging from 56 to 2544 particles kg-1. 87% of the Tubifex ingested microplastic particles were microfibres (55 – 4100 µm in length), whilst the remaining 13% were fragments (50 – 4500 µm in length). FT-IR analysis revealed ingestion of a range of polymers, including polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) and acrylic fibres. Whilst microbeads were present in the host sediment matrix, they were not detected in Tubifex worm tissue. However, there was limited selectivity in the ingestion of microplastics within the fragment or fiber subtypes. The mean concentration of ingested microplastics was 129 ± 65.4 particles g-1 tissue. We also show that Tubifex worms retain microplastics longer than other components of the ingested sediment matrix. Microplastic ingestion by Tubifex worms poses a significant risk for trophic transfer and biomagnification of microplastics up the aquatic food chain.

Rachel R Hurley, Jamie C Woodward, and James J. Rothwell, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, October 11, 2017

Occurrence and distribution of microplastics at selected coastal sites along the southeastern United States

To investigate the occurrence and distribution of microplastics in the southeastern coastal region of the United States, we quantified the amount of microplastics in sand samples from multiple coastal sites and developed a predictive model to understand the drift of plastics via ocean currents. Sand samples from eighteen National Park Service (NPS) beaches in the Southeastern Region were collected and microplastics were isolated from each sample. Microplastic counts were compared among sites and local geography was used to make inferences about sources and modes of distribution. Samples were analyzed to identify the composition of particles using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). To predict the spatiotemporal distribution and movements of particles via coastal currents, a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) was applied. Microplastics were detected in each of the sampled sites although abundance among sites was highly variable. Approximately half of the samples were dominated by thread-like and fibrous materials as opposed to beads and particles. Results of FTIR suggested that 24% consisted of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), while about 68% of the fibers tested were composed of man-made cellulosic materials such as rayon. Based on published studies examining sources of microplastics, the shape of the particles found here (mostly fibers) and the presence of PET, we infer the source of microplastics in coastal areas is mainly from urban areas, such as wastewater discharge, rather than breakdown of larger marine debris drifting in the ocean. Local geographic features, e.g., the nearness of sites to large rivers and urbanized areas, explain variance in amount of microplastics among sites. Additionally, the distribution of simulated particles is explained by ocean current patterns; computer simulations were correlated with field observations, reinforcing the idea that ocean currents can be a good predictor of the fate and distribution of microplastics at the sites sampled here.

Xubiao Yu, Samantha Ladewig, Shaowu Bao, Catherine A. Toline, Stefanie Whitmire, Alex T. Chow, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 613–614, 1 February 2018, Pages 298-305

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