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

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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

Mixture toxicity of nickel and microplastics with different functional groups on Daphnia magna

In recent years, discarded plastic has become an increasingly prevalent pollutant in aquatic ecosystems. These plastic wastes decompose into microplastics, which not only pose a direct threat to aquatic organisms but also an indirect threat via adsorption of other aquatic pollutants. In this study, we investigated the toxicities of variable and fixed combinations of two types of microplastics [one coated with a carboxyl group (PS-COOH) and the other lacking this functional group (PS)] with the heavy metal nickel (Ni) on Daphnia magna and calculated mixture toxicity using a toxic unit model. We found that toxicity of Ni in combination with either of the two microplastics differed from that of Ni alone. Furthermore, in general, we observed that immobilization of D. magna exposed to Ni combined with PS-COOH was higher than that of D. magna exposed to Ni combined with PS. Collectively, the results of our study indicate that the toxic effects of microplastics and pollutants may vary depending on the specific properties of the pollutant and microplastic functional groups, and further research on the mixture toxicity of various combinations of microplastics and pollutants is warranted.

Dokyung Kim, Yooeun Chae, and Youn-Joo An, Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript, October 11, 2017

Risks of Plastic Debris: Unravelling Fact, Opinion, Perception, and Belief

Researcher and media alarms have caused plastic debris to be perceived as a major threat to humans and animals. However, although the waste of plastic in the environment is clearly undesirable for aesthetic and economic reasons, the actual environmental risks of different plastics and their associated chemicals remain largely unknown. Here we show how a systematic assessment of adverse outcome pathways based on ecologically relevant metrics for exposure and effect can bring risk assessment within reach. Results of such an assessment will help to respond to the current public worry in a balanced way and allow policy makers to take measures for scientifically sound reasons.

Albert A. Koelmans, Ellen Besseling, Edwin Foekema and al., Environ. Sci. Technol., Volume 51, Issue 20, Page 11513-11519, October 17, 2017

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Dechlorane Plus induces oxidative stress and decreases cyclooxygenase activity in the blue mussel

Dechlorane Plus (DP) is a chlorinated flame retardant used mainly in electrical wire and cable coating, computer connectors, and plastic roofing materials. Concentrations of DP (syn and anti isomers) are increasingly being reported in aquatic ecosystems worldwide. However, there is exceedingly little information on the exposure-related toxicity of DP in aquatic organisms, especially in bivalves. The objective of this study was to investigate the in vivo and in vitro effects of DP exposure on histopathology, lipid peroxidation (LPO) levels, cyclooxygenase (COX) activity, phagocytosis capacity and efficiency, and DNA strand breakage in the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) following a 29 days exposure (0.001, 0.01, 0.1 and 1.0 μg DP/L). Blue mussels accumulated DP in muscle and digestive gland in a dose-dependent manner. LPO levels in gills were found to increase by 82% and 67% at the 0.01 and 1.0 μg DP/L doses, respectively, while COX activity in gills decreased by 44% at the 1 μg/L dose. No histopathological lesion was found in gonads following DP exposure. Moreover, no change in hemocyte DNA strand breakage, phagocytosis rate, and viability was observed following DP exposure. Present study showed that toxicity of DP may occur primarily via oxidative stress in the blue mussel and potentially other bivalves, and that gills represent the most responsive tissue to this exposure.

Pierre-Luc Gagné, Marlène Fortier, Marc Fraser and al., Aquatic Toxicology, Volume 188, July 2017, Pages 26-32

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Chemoreception drives plastic consumption in a hard coral

The drivers behind microplastic (up to 5 mm in diameter) consumption by animals are uncertain and impacts on foundational species are poorly understood. We investigated consumption of weathered, unfouled, biofouled, pre-production and microbe-free National Institute of Standards plastic by a scleractinian coral that relies on chemosensory cues for feeding. Experiment one found that corals ingested many plastic types while mostly ignoring organic-free sand, suggesting that plastic contains phagostimulents. Experiment two found that corals ingested more plastic that wasn’t covered in a microbial biofilm than plastics that were biofilmed. Additionally, corals retained ~ 8% of ingested plastic for 24 h or more and retained particles appeared stuck in corals, with consequences for energetics, pollutant toxicity and trophic transfer. The potential for chemoreception to drive plastic consumption in marine taxa has implications for conservation.

A. S. Allen, A. C. Seymour, D. Rittschof, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 124, Issue 1, 15 November 2017, Pages 198-205

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