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Displaying items by tag: Microplastics

A leading Irish expert on microplastics has warned that the negative health effects may be more widespread, following publication of research linking microplastics with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

NUI Galway scientist Dr Liam Morrison said the research confirmed that the ubiquity of microplastics is a “serious societal challenge”.

The research paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology has found that people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have more microplastics in their faeces than those without the condition.

The scientists also found microplastics were more prevalent among participants in the study who drank more bottled water or ate more takeaway food.

IBD can cause persistent diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, and the chronic digestive disease is estimated to affect some five million people worldwide.

"Microplastics were more prevalent among participants who drank more bottled water or ate more takeaway food"

The study by scientists at Nanjing Medical University in China did not prove conclusively that microplastics cause IBD, and cautioned that more research was needed.

However, the authors of the paper said their study provided “evidence indicating that a positive correlation exists between the concentration of faecal microplastics and the severity of IBD”.

Some 52 samples were taken from people with IBD, and another 50 were taken from people who are healthy.

The participants in the study were asked to provide information on the food and drinks they consumed, their working and living conditions, demographic situation, and the status of their IBD among those with the condition.

“We conclude that the plastic packaging of drinking water and food and dust exposure are important sources of human exposure to microplastics,” the researchers said.

Dr Liam Morrison said “the ubiquity of plastics in every component of our environment is a serious societal challenge on a transboundary scale for the 21st century”.

“We only have to look around us to see all the materials made from plastics and single-use plastics that play a central role in our lives, from the clothes we wear to the everyday items we use in our homes and in the workplace,” he said.

“ Millions of plastic items of varying sizes, from nano to macro are discharged into our environment daily,” Morrison said.

“Initial research mainly focused on impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans. Plastic waste is geographically widespread from the ocean depths to the mountain tops and in many species including our own,” he continued.

“ We are aware that humans are consuming microplastics from the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. We know that contaminants and toxins can accumulate on the surface of microplastics and the potential impacts of this on humans remains poorly understood,” he said.

The global pandemic brought “new dimensions”, due to the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE), mostly made from plastics, to reduce the spread of infection, Morrison noted.

“On a global scale, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves are estimated to have been used every month during the Covid 19 pandemic. The disposable face mask market was estimated to have increased $800m in 2019 to $166bn in 2020,” Morrison said.

“There are of course huge societal benefits to plastics, but we have to really look at our usage of single-use plastics and waste management issues for a circular economy,” he said.

Published in Marine Science
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Lightweight microplastics can be trapped in freshwater sediment and stay longest at “headwaters” or sources of rivers and streams, a new study has found.

It can then take up to seven years for such pollutants to travel just a kilometre further towards the sea or ocean, a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago in North America calculates.

The research published in the journal Science Advances follows a similar study released last autumn by the University of Leicester.

As reported by Afloat, the University of Leicester research found microplastics may travel at less than 0.01km per hour.

The new research published this week notes that swirling river waters can trap lightweight microplastics that otherwise might be expected to float – depositing them in riverbeds.

“As rivers are in near-constant motion, researchers had previously assumed that lightweight microplastics were swept rather swiftly towards the ocean and rarely interacted with riverbed sediments,” the authors state.

They set out a new model describing processes that influence particles, including hyporheic exchange, involving widely abundant microplastics which are 100 micrometres in size and smaller.

The scientists used global data on urban wastewater discharges and river flow condition to discover that microplastic pollution resides the longest at the source of a river or stream - known as the ‘headwaters’ that are furthest away from the ocean.

In headwaters, microplastic particles move at an average rate of five hours per kilometre, but can then take up to seven years to move one kilometre under low-flow conditions.

Stefan Krause, professor of ecohydrology and biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham, noted that the slow movement of microplastics downstream” makes it more likely that aquatic species ingest microplastics and propagate them through the food-web.

This can "potentially cause harm for environmental and public health”, Krause said.

“Our findings highlight that we need to develop strategies to reduce future microplastic inputs into rivers, and find effective solutions to remove the existing legacy of plastics from our rivers in order to restore freshwater ecosystems,” he said.

The study was led by Dr Jennifer Drummond at the University of Birmingham, and supported by a Royal Society Newton International Fellowship, Marie Curie Individual Fellowship, the German Research Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust and the National Science Foundation.

The paper ‘Microplastic accumulation in riverbed sediment via hyporheic exchange from headwaters to mainstems’ by Jennifer D. Drummond, Uwe Schneidewind, Angang Li, Timothy J. Hoellein, Stefan Krause and Aaron I Packman is published in Science Advances.

Published in Marine Science
Tagged under

New research from The Ocean Race Europe has found microplastics, and in particular microfibres, to be prevalent across the length and breadth of Europe.

All 36 water samples collected around the continent — including in the Baltic Sea, the English Channel, along the Atlantic coastline and in the Mediterranean Sea — were found to contain microfibres.

These tiny plastic fibres enter the environment from manufacturing, washing and wearing synthetic clothes. Fibres also originate from car tyres, ending up in the sea after heavy rain and run-off, as well as from ​​fragmented fishing gear and lines.

The data, which was captured by sailing teams competing in the first edition of The Ocean Race Europe, found that on average Europe’s seas contain 139 microplastic particles per cubic meter.

Most of these particles (83%) are microfibres, with the remaining being fragments from the degradation of larger plastic items such as plastic bottles, packaging and microbeads in toiletries. Three of the samples (two from the Channel and one from the Mediterranean Sea) contained microfibres exclusively.

Ambersail-2 in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceAmbersail-2 in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race measured microplastics in the last edition of the round-the-world race in 2017-18 in a pioneering move that combined racing and science. This summer, the race teamed up with scientific bodies GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Utrecht University to discover more about the source of the microplastics by analysing whether they are fibres or fragments.

Dr Aaron Beck, senior scientist at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, who coordinated the analysis of the microplastic samples, said: “The data clearly show that microplastics are pervasive in the ocean and that, surprisingly, the major component of these microplastics are microfibres.

“Previous research has typically focused on detecting fragments, rather than fibres, so this new data is significant and highlights the value of collaborations with partners like The Ocean Race that help us better define the make-up and distribution of microplastics in the surface of the ocean.”

The Ocean Race says its data is contributing to the development of a map of plastic in the ocean and helping inform understanding of how microplastics transfer into marine ecosystems. Microfibres are the type of microplastic that are most frequently eaten by marine species and therefore of concern for ocean biodiversity.

The Ocean Race Europe took place in May and June 2021, starting in Lorient in North West France and finishing in Genova, Italy.

Data was collected over a six-week period in May and June 2021 during The Ocean Race Europe and its prologue. Two teams, Ambersail-2 and AkzoNobel Ocean Racing, carried scientific equipment onboard to capture samples of microplastics as they raced, while a third boat, 11th Hour Racing Team, took measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2), sea temperature, PH levels and salinity, which are key indicators of climate change.

AkzoNobel Ocean Racing in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceAkzoNobel Ocean Racing in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

The data gathered in the race showed the Baltic Sea to have the highest levels of microplastics in Europe, with 230 particles found per cubic metre, on average double the amount found in the Mediterranean (112 particles per cubic metre) which is considered a hotspot for plastic pollution.

Dr Beck said: “The high abundance of microplastic in the Baltic Sea compared to the Mediterranean Sea is unexpected. Factors such as the time of year that the data is collected can have an impact on the distribution of microplastics. The more data we can gather, from different areas and seasons, the better we can understand the source of the plastics and where they end up.”

The ocean plays a critically important role in climate regulation. It has absorbed over 90% of man-made excess heat since the 1970s and absorbs a quarter of human made carbon CO2, helping to effectively mitigate climate change. However, this absorption causes the ocean to become more acidic, which has an adverse effect on marine life.

Measurements of dissolved CO2 captured during The Ocean Race Europe by 11th Hour Racing Team have been submitted to the Surface Ocean Carbon Dioxide Atlas (SOCAT), which provides data for the Global Carbon Budget, a yearly assessment of CO2 that informs targets and predictions for carbon reduction.

It is vital that scientists understand the levels of CO2 in the ocean to form an accurate budget and keep the world on track to stay within the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The CO2 data were also analysed by EuroSea, a European Commission-funded programme that improves the ocean observing and forecasting systems. Carbon dioxide levels were found to be highest in the Mediterranean, as a consequence of warm temperatures and very little wind.

11th Hour Racing Team in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing/The Ocean Race11th Hour Racing Team in The Ocean Race Europe | Credit: Amory Ross/11th Hour Racing/The Ocean Race

Simon Weppe, science lead at The Ocean Race said: “Climate change and plastic pollution have, in mere decades, caused a drastic decline in the health of the ocean. Through The Ocean Race’s unique collaboration between sailors and ocean research organisations, we are helping to grow understanding of these dire issues.

“The more we know of the scale of these problems the better placed we are to take action to combat them; this is crucial, as the state of the seas and the fate of the planet are completely interlinked.

"It's vital that governments act on the scientific evidence to protect and restore our ocean and all that depends on it. The race for the ocean is a race we must win.”

The Ocean Race Europe scientific data collection activity was endorsed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a global movement to unlock the knowledge needed to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.

The Ocean Race’s innovative science programme has been developed in collaboration with 11th Hour Racing, premier partner of The Ocean Race and founding partner of the Racing with Purpose sustainability programme.

The Ocean Race Europe Science Report can be viewed HERE.

Published in Volvo Ocean Race

Next Tuesday 13 April the Cork Nature Network hosts a free talk in the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, and specifically on the largest fish in the sea.

During this talk, Dr Alina Wieczorek will be presenting her research — being conducted both in Ireland and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean — on microplastic interactions with whale sharks and basking sharks.

She will also share some first insights into how researchers can use scientific findings to inform society and stakeholders to collaboratively find solutions to address environmental issues such as plastic pollution.

Online attendance for ‘Microplastics a Macro-Disaster: A threat to the largest fish of our seas?’ at 7pm next Tuesday 13 April is free, and registration is open now at Eventbrite.

Published in Sharks

Small freshwater animals are breaking down microplastics into nanoplastic fragments which can enter the food chain, according to new research by University College Cork (UCC).

In less than four days, the freshwater amphipod, Gammarus duebeni, is able to fragment microplastics into different shapes and sizes, including nanoplastics, the research has found.

These invertebrate animals inhabit Irish streams and are part of a larger group found around the world in freshwater and ocean environments.

Microplastics are plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm, and nanoplastics created by the crustaceans within hours are at least five thousand times smaller in size.

Breakdown of plastics had been thought to occur mainly through very slow processes in the marine environment such as sunlight or wave action.

The findings have “ substantial consequences for the understanding of the environmental fate of microplastics”, study leader Dr Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas, of UCC’s School of BEES and Environmental Research Institute says:

The study also has consequences in terms of the impacts of plastics, she said.

While microplastics can become stuck in the gut of seabirds and fish, current understanding suggests that the smaller nanoplastic particles could penetrate cells and tissues where their effects could be much harder to predict, she noted.

“These invertebrates are very important in ecosystems because they are prey for fish and birds, hence any nanoplastic fragments that they produce may be entering food chains” Dr Mateos-Cárdenas added, urging further “urgently needed” research.

The study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, and published in the journal Scientific Reports this week, here

Published in Marine Science

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