New study shows microplastics are harmful and impact health  - Policies in need of change

12/02/2013 - 00:00

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 an NCEAS researcher 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.

There were two primary objectives for the study: 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. Lab experiments 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 compromise key functions that normally sustain health and biodiversity.