Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 19 S/V Kaisei: The Power of One

Saturday, 22 August 2009
Lat: 38°51’ N Lon: 133°23’ W

“Time is of the essence. We didn’t know before, but now we do and it’s not an issue of pointing fingers or accusing anybody. Now that we know the consequences, we need to immediately change. It's time to find ways to prevent such chemicals from entering the environment in the first place, to find alternatives, and to anticipate problems before they occur. We cannot wait to find a cure for dangerous products after they are in the environment and in us.” – Jean-Michel Cousteau

The Ten Perils About Synthetic Polymer Marine Debris-
1. A large percentage of marine debris consists of synthetic polymers (plastic):
• Marine litter currently consists of 60–80% plastic polymers, and, in some areas, plastic accounts for 90–95% of marine debris (Moore, 2008).
• Plastics make up to 80–85% of the seabed debris in Tokyo Japan, (Kanehiro et al., 1995).
2. Plasticizers (“phthalates”) leach from polymer debris and are found in oceanic environments:
• Although the phthalate bisphenol A (BPA) is easily degraded, it is frequently detected in aquatic environments due to its continuous release. BPA is produced in large quantities (Oehlmann, 2008), and it is a potential carcinogen.
• Plastic products contain approximately 50% fillers and additives by weight including harmful phthalates (Colton et al., 1974).
• The softer the (plastic) product, such as children’s bathtub “rubber” ducks, the greater the amount of phthalates present. Phthalates are also used in products such as cosmetics and pills. Because phthalates are not chemically bonded to PVC pipes, they leach from PVC plastic (vom Saal, 2008).
3. Phthalates leach more from old or weathered polymers:
• The rate of leaching of BPA from polycarbonate plastic products increases with repeated use, washing, exposure to heat, and contact with acidic or basic substances (vom Saal, 2008).
4. Some phthalates are known endocrine disrupters and can cause reproductive problems in animals:
• While plastic products are often presented to the public as being inert, a number of their phthalates have been classified as “endocrine disrupting chemicals” that contaminate not only all the organ systems in the adult body (Colborn et al., 1993) but also aquatic organisms throughout the world (Oehlmann, 2008).
• Many common phthalates cause reproductive toxicity in rodents (Howdeshell, 2008).
• Male laboratory rats exposed to certain phthalates exhibited malformations and alterations to reproductive tissues (Parks et al., 2000; Wilson et al., 2004; Foster, 2006).
5. Some phthalates can affect brain formation and functioning in animals:
• BPA, which is a chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic as well as a plasticizer added to PVC (polyvinyl chloride), affects brain organization and chemistry and behavior of laboratory animals when they are exposed to it in low doses (vom Saal et al., 2007).
6. Synthetic polymers breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces as they are exposed to oceanic environments:
• -Plastics become brittle and break into smaller pieces due to exposure to ultraviolet light, the hydrolytic properties of seawater, and the oxidative properties of the atmosphere (Moore, 2008).
7. Small plastic particles are highly accessible to organisms that feed on plankton or fish near the ocean surface:
• Forty-four percent of all seabirds ingest floating plastic while feeding on or near the surface of the water (Rios et al., 2007).
8. Toxic chemicals can attach to polymer surfaces and enter the food web when ingested by birds, fish, or other marine animals. In addition to causing physical blockage of the digestive system, ingested marine debris may also increase exposure to pollutants adsorbed on the plastic debris:
• Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can adsorb onto plastic resin pellets and fragments from plastic products. Plastic debris can therefore serve as points of accumulation for harmful toxins in aquatic environments (Mato et al., 2001; Moore, 2005; Rios et al., 2007).
9. Flame retardants such as PBDEs (polybrominated diethyl-ethers) can be released into the environment from plastic products and are rapidly increasing in the environment:
• Plastic products can release the flame retardants PBDEs (polybrominated diethylethers) resulting in wide-spread chemical exposure to wildlife and humans, as well as plant species (vom Saal, 2008).
• These toxins are now in every corner of our earth and in every body of water (Hale et al. 2002; Lorber 2008).
• PBDEs are now recognized as a global pollutant even found within deep oceanic environments, in the Arctic, and Antarctica 8-10
10. Persistent toxic chemicals known to attach to synthetic polymer debris are being found in high concentrations in marine mammals and fish we eat:
• Persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) are attracted to plastic resin pellets and plastic product fragments (Rios et al., 2007; Moore et al., 2005; Mato et al., 2001).

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