(Santa Barbara, Calif.) With global production of plastic exceeding 280 metric tons every year, a fair amount of the stuff is bound to make its way to the natural environment. However, until now researchers haven't known whether ingested plastic transfers chemical additives or pollutants to wildlife. A new study conducted by UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) shows that toxic concentrations of pollutants and additives enter the tissue of animals that have eaten microplastic. The findings are published today in Current Biology.
Lead author Mark Anthony Browne, a postdoctoral fellow at NCEAS, had two objectives when the study commenced: to look at whether chemicals from microplastic move into the tissues of organisms; and to determine any impacts on the health and the functions that sustain biodiversity. Microplastics are micrometer-size pieces that have eroded from larger plastic fragments, from fibers from washing clothing or from granules of plastic added to cleaning products. Microplastics are then consumed by a variety of animals, beginning with the bottom of the food chain. These tiny bits of plastic act like magnets, attracting pollutants out of the environment to attach to the plastic.
"The work is important because current policy in the United States and abroad considers microplastic as non-hazardous," Browne said. "Yet our work shows that large accumulations of microplastic have the potential to impact the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems."
Browne ran laboratory experiments with colleagues in the United Kingdom in which they exposed lugworms (Arenicola marina) to sand with 5 percent microplastic (polyvinylchloride) that also contained common chemical pollutants (nonylphenol, phenanthrene) and additives (triclosan, PBDE-47). Results showed that pollutants and additives from ingested microplastic were present in the worms' tissues at concentrations that
|Contact: Julie Cohen|
University of California - Santa Barbara