Microplastic pollution, a threat to marine ecosystem and human health: a short review

Human populations are using oceans as their household dustbins, and microplastic is one of the components which are not only polluting shorelines but also freshwater bodies globally. Microplastics are generally referred to particles with a size lower than 5 mm. These microplastics are tiny plastic granules and used as scrubbers in cosmetics, hand cleansers, air-blasting. These contaminants are omnipresent within almost all marine environments at present. The durability of plastics makes it highly resistant to degradation and through indiscriminate disposal they enter in the aquatic environment. Today, it is an issue of increasing scientific concern because these microparticles due to their small size are easily accessible to a wide range of aquatic organisms and ultimately transferred along food web. The chronic biological effects in marine organisms results due to accumulation of microplastics in their cells and tissues. The potential hazardous effects on humans by alternate ingestion of microparticles can cause alteration in chromosomes which lead to infertility, obesity, and cancer. Because of the recent threat of microplastics to marine biota as well as on human health, it is important to control excessive use of plastic additives and to introduce certain legislations and policies to regulate the sources of plastic litter. By setup various plastic recycling process or promoting plastic awareness programmes through different social and information media, we will be able to clean our sea dustbin in future.

Shivika Sharma, Subhankar Chatterjee, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, , Volume 24, Issue 27, pp 21530–21547

The article

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Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management

The Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management was developed during the Conferencia Internacional de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida en Latinoamérica, which took place from 12–15 June in Medellin, Colombia. The Declaration calls for an improved handling of plastic resources and is meant to encourage researchers and relevant stakeholders to develop new methodologies to address marine litter better within Life Cycle Assessments.

The declaration has been co-authored by various stakeholders present at the conference and has been revised in an online-consultation process until the 18th of July. The global life cycle community is invited to join the Medelling Declaration, which is available for signature on the FSLCI website at: https://fslci.org/medellindeclaration

Guido Sonnemann, Sonia Valdivia, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, , Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 1637–1639

The article

Widespread detection of a brominated flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane, in expanded polystyrene marine debris and microplastics from South Korea and the Asia-Pacific coastal region

The role of marine plastic debris and microplastics as a carrier of hazardous chemicals in the marine environment is an emerging issue. This study investigated expanded polystyrene (EPS, commonly known as styrofoam) debris, which is a common marine debris item worldwide, and its additive chemical, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). To obtain a better understanding of chemical dispersion via EPS pollution in the marine environment, intensive monitoring of HBCD levels in EPS debris and microplastics was conducted in South Korea, where EPS is the predominant marine debris originate mainly from fishing and aquaculture buoys. At the same time, EPS debris were collected from 12 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and HBCD concentrations were measured. HBCD was detected extensively in EPS buoy debris and EPS microplastics stranded along the Korean coasts, which might be related to the detection of a quantity of HBCD in non-flame-retardant EPS bead (raw material). The wide detection of the flame retardant in sea-floating buoys, and the recycling of high-HBCD-containing EPS waste inside large buoys highlight the need for proper guidelines for the production and use of EPS raw materials, and the recycling of EPS waste. HBCD was also abundantly detected in EPS debris collected from the Asia-Pacific coastal region, indicating that HBCD contamination via EPS debris is a common environmental issue worldwide. Suspected tsunami debris from Alaskan beaches indicated that EPS debris has the potential for long-range transport in the ocean, accompanying the movement of hazardous chemicals. The results of this study indicate that EPS debris can be a source of HBCD in marine environments and marine food web.

Mi Jang, Won Joon Shim, Gi Myung Han and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 231, Part 1, December 2017, Pages 785-794

The article

New Study Reveals Global Water Supply Contaminated by Microplastic Fibers

Microplastics — extremely small pieces (less than 5 mm) of plastic debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of consumer products and industrial waste — have been found in tap water around the globe, according to a new report by Orb Media, a D.C.-based nonprofit digital newsroom. The discovery has led to a call from the scientific community for urgent research on microplastics’ implications for human health.

Designed by Dr. Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia and Elizabeth Wattenberg at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health, the tap water study screened 159 half liter drinking water samples from 14 countries: Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Slovakia, Switzerland, Uganda, the UK and the US. Overall, 83 percent of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibers.

European countries demonstrated the lowest level of contamination, though this was still 72 percent. The average number of microplastics found in each 500ml sample ranged from 1.9 in Europe to 4.8 in the US. (…) (sustainablebrands.com, 11/09/2017, Orb media)

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Orb media – Invisibles plastics

Spatial distribution of marine debris on the seafloor of Moroccan waters

Marine debris pollution is considered as a worldwide problem and a direct threat to the environment, economy and human health. In this paper, we provide the first quantitative assessment of debris on the seafloor of the southern part of the economic exclusive waters of Morocco. The data were collected in a scientific trawl survey carried out from 5 to 25 October 2014 between (26N) to (21N) covering different stratums of depths (from 10 to 266 m) and following a sampling network of 100 stations distributed randomly in the study area. A total of 603 kg of debris was collected and sorted into five main categories: plastic, metal, rubber, textiles and glass. Over 50% of collected items was made by plastic, 94% of them are the plastic fishing gear used to capture the Octopus vulgaris. The analysis of the distribution shows that anthropogenic debris is present in the majority of the prospected area (∼ 47,541 km2) with different densities ranging from 0 to 1768 (± 298,15) kg/km2. The spatial autocorrelation approach using GIS shows that the concentration of this debris is correlated very well with a set of factors such as the proximity to fishing activity sites. Moreover, the mechanism of transportation and dispersion was influenced by the hydrodynamic properties of the region.

S. Loulad, R. Houssa, H Rhinane and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 24 July 2017, In Press, Corrected Proof

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Abundant plankton-sized microplastic particles in shelf waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico

Accumulation of marine debris is a global problem that affects the oceans on multiple scales. The majority of floating marine debris is composed of microplastics: plastic particles up to 5 mm in diameter. With similar sizes and appearances to natural food items, these small fragments pose potential risks to many marine organisms including zooplankton and zooplanktivores. Semi-enclosed seas are reported to have high concentrations of microplastics, however, the distribution and concentration of microplastics in one such system, the Gulf of Mexico, remains unknown. Our study documented and characterized microplastics in continental shelf waters off the Louisiana coast in the northern Gulf of Mexico, using bongo nets, neuston nets, and Niskin bottles. Additionally, we compared the size distributions of microplastics and zooplankton collected using the nets. Plastics were manually sorted from the samples, documented, and measured using digital microscopy. Confirmation of putative plastics was carried out by hydrofluoric acid digestion and a subsample was analyzed using FTIR microscopy. Estimated concentrations of microplastics collected on the inner continental shelf during this study are among the highest reported globally. Total microplastic concentrations ranged from 4.8 to 8.2 particles m−3 and 5.0–18.4 particles m−3 for the bongo and neuston samples, respectively. Niskin bottles collected smaller plastic particles than the nets and indicated total microplastic concentrations (primarily fibers) from 6.0E4 – 15.7E4 particles m−3. Microplastic concentrations were greater than the abundances of all but four of the five most abundant taxa from bongo nets and were not statistically different from the abundances of any of the most numerous taxa from neuston nets. Sizes of microplastics and zooplankton partially or completely overlapped, suggesting the potential for confusion with natural prey.

R. Di Mauro, M. J. Kupchik, M. C. Benfield, Environmental Pollution, Volume 230, November 2017, Pages 798-809

The article

High quantities of microplastic in Arctic deep-sea sediments from the HAUSGARTEN observatory

Although mounting evidence suggests the ubiquity of microplastic in aquatic ecosystems worldwide, our knowledge of its distribution in remote environments such as Polar Regions and the deep sea is scarce. Here, we analyzed nine sediment samples taken at the HAUSGARTEN observatory in the Arctic at 2,340 – 5,570 m depth. Density separation by MicroPlastic Sediment Separator and treatment with Fenton’s reagent enabled analysis via Attenuated Total Reflection FTIR and µFTIR spectroscopy. Our analyses indicate the wide spread of high numbers of microplastics (42 – 6,595 microplastics kg-1). The northernmost stations harbored the highest quantities, indicating sea ice as a transport vehicle. A positive correlation between microplastic abundance and chlorophyll a content suggests vertical export via incorporation in sinking (ice-) algal aggregates. Overall, 18 different polymers were detected. Chlorinated polyethylene accounted for the largest proportion (38 %), followed by polyamide (22 %) and polypropylene (16 %). Almost 80 % of the microplastics were ≤ 25 µm. The microplastic quantities are amongst the highest recorded from benthic sediments, which corroborates the deep sea as a major sink for microplastics and the presence of accumulation areas in this remote part of the world, fed by plastics transported to the North via the Thermohaline Circulation.

Melanie Bergmann, Vanessa Wirzberger, Thomas Krumpen, Claudia Lorenz, Sebastian Primpke, Mine B. Tekman, and Gunnar Gerdts, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, August 17, 2017