Tiny plastic pellets found on 73% of UK beaches

A search of hundreds of beaches across the UK has found almost three-quarters of them are littered with tiny plastic pellets.

The lentil-size pellets known as “nurdles” are used as a raw material by industry to make new plastic products.

But searches of 279 shorelines from Shetland to Scilly revealed that 205 (73%) contained pellets.

The largest number recorded in the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt weekend in early February were found at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, where 33 volunteers from the Widemouth Task Force collected about 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach.

Thousands of the tiny pellets were spotted by volunteers over a short period in locations from Porth Neigwl in Wales to the shoreline in front of the dunes at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, County Durham, and after stormy conditions on the Isle of Wight. (…) (theguardian.com, 17/02/2017)

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UK Government to investigate whether microplastics pose risk to human health

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, is to study the risks from eating seafood containing tiny particles of plastic. Experts are concerned that millions of tonnes of tiny debris from plastic bags, bottles and clothes in the world’s oceans could have potentially harmful effects on the body.

Someone eating half a dozen oysters is likely to consume 50 tiny pieces of microplastic, according to a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, released earlier this year.

In its response to the report the Government acknowledged that there is “little evidence” on the impact to human health from eating the plastic. (…) (independent.co.uk, 14/11/2016)

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Presence of microplastic in the digestive tracts of European flounder, Platichthys flesus, and European smelt, Osmerus eperlanus, from the River Thames

Like many urban catchments, the River Thames in London is contaminated with plastics. This pollutant is recorded on the river banks, in the benthic environment and in the water column. The present study was conducted to assess the extent of microplastic ingestion in two River Thames fish species, the European flounder (Platichthys flesus) and European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus). Samples were collected from two sites in Kent, England; Erith and Isle of Grain/Sheppey, near Sheerness, with the latter being more estuarine. The results revealed that up to 75% of sampled European flounder had plastic fibres in the gut compared with only 20% of smelt. This difference may be related to their diverse feeding behaviours: European flounder are benthic feeders whilst European smelt are pelagic predators. The fibres were predominantly red or black polyamides and other fibres included acrylic, nylon, polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate and there was no difference in occurrence between the sites sampled.

A.R. McGoran, P.F. Clark, D. Morritt, Environmental Pollution, Volume 220, Part A, January 2017, Pages 744–751

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Large microplastic particles in sediments of tributaries of the River Thames, UK – Abundance, sources and methods for effective quantification

Sewage effluent input and population were chosen as predictors of microplastic presence in sediments at four sites in the River Thames basin (UK). Large microplastic particles (1 mm–4 mm) were extracted using a stepwise approach to include visual extraction, flotation and identification using Raman spectroscopy. Microplastics were found at all four sites. One site had significantly higher numbers of microplastics than other sites, average 66 particles 100 g− 1, 91% of which were fragments. This site was downstream of a storm drain outfall receiving urban runoff; many of the fragments at this site were determined to be derived of thermoplastic road-surface marking paints. At the remaining three sites, fibres were the dominant particle type. The most common polymers identified included polypropylene, polyester and polyarylsulphone. This study describes two major new findings: presence of microplastic particles in a UK freshwater system and identification of road marking paints as a source of microplastics.

Alice A. Horton, Claus Svendsen, Richard J. Williams, David J. Spurgeon, Elma Lahive, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 114, Issue 1, 15 January 2017, Pages 218–226

The article

Plastic microbeads to be banned by 2017, UK government pledges

The UK government has announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017. (…)

he US recently became the first country to announce it would ban microbead use in cosmetics, with pressure growing globally to take action.

The European Commission is also currently developing proposals to ban them in cosmetics across the EU, following calls from a number of member states. (BBC News, 3/09/2016)

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