Algalita Marine Research Blog

Marine Plastic Covers Earth…Magazine

Posted by: Kim De Wolff

Check out the latest edition of Earth Magazine:

Ocean plastics made the cover of the February issue! And inside? An eight-page feature on the science of tracking plastic summarizes the most prominent marine debris research projects to date. Algalita gets first mention for Captain Charles Moore’s pioneering expeditions, plastic to plankton calculations and work raising awareness about plastic in the Pacific.

Author Barry E. DiGregorio provides an accessible and well-illustrated introduction to some of the field-defining scientific questions that Algalita and others are working hard to address: How much plastic is in the ocean? How long does it take for plastic to degrade at sea? What impact is it having on marine life?

And we don’t, as the article points out, have definitive-true-to-the-whole-sea answers. Those that participate on voyages or work with samples in the lab know well the challenges that come with looking for little fragments in vast oceans. Deep water, persistent currents, swells, sinking materials, algae and barnacle growth, bits hidden in the insides of fish and birds or stuck to plankton. It’s not possible to count every piece of plastic in the global oceans individually; just as plastic has not been around long enough for us to confirm exactly how long it might take to degrade.

But it’s important to remember that the impossibility of knowing for one hundred and ten percent certain need not lead to the impossibility of action. There’s more than enough consensus about the presence of plastics and toxins – on beaches, at sea, in sample after sample – to form the foundations for implementing solutions alongside calls for continued research.

Date Posted: January 31, 2012 @ 9:16 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Plastics and Health: Beyond BPA

Posted by: Kim De Wolff

You might have heard of bisphenol-A or “BPA.” It’s a chemical that grabbed media attention a few years back, with research connecting it to some pretty undesirable health problems like higher cancer rates, obesity, and low sperm counts. Lots of plastic bottles and containers now claim to be “BPA free,” but what you might not know is that BPA is only one member of a whole class of potentially harmful chemicals that are ‘estrogenic,’ that either mimic or interrupt the activity of hormones in bodies.

Also known as endocrine disruptors, these substances are common ingredients in plastics. During production, they are added to plastic bases to make them stronger, harder, more flexible, but the additives don’t always stay put during use. As the title of a recent article in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests, “Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals.”

In their study, the authors gathered 455 common plastic objects, like bags and bottles, filled them with saltwater or alcohol solutions and put them through their paces. The plastics were washed, microwaved and exposed to light in simulation of everyday stresses. Researchers then measured the chemicals released into the solutions. The results? Almost all of the objects tested positive for releasing chemicals that act like estrogen. Especially surprising was their finding that “BPA free” plastics often released even more of these compounds that other types of plastic.

While these chemicals are very small, we need to consider the bigger picture in terms of potential harm to human health and marine life. Switching one kind of plastic bottle for another isn’t the solution.

Date Posted: January 20, 2012 @ 10:38 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut