Friday, April 1, 2016

Just One Word: Plastics!

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
The EPA Bay program got the word, so their getting into it. From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters
On a warm day last September, Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, sat on a boat, motoring from a dock in Annapolis. She was surrounded by guests she had invited, and as she spoke to them, a mason jar full of algae-thick water sloshed in her hand with every gesture.

Looking more closely at the jar, several small flecks of white floated at the surface, occasionally sticking to the side of the glass. They were pieces of microplastic—degraded bits of waste less than five millimeters in size. Microplastic is a potential threat to marine life, which can mistake pieces of waste for food. It can also absorb and release harmful chemicals.

From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters from Chesapeake Bay Program on Vimeo.

Indeed, tiny plastic beads are used to measure the rate at which zooplankton and other small filter feeders filter the water. As for absorbing and releasing "toxics", many organic compounds have a high affinity for plastics, and will adsorb (not absorb) on their surfaces, rendering them unavailable to biological uptake. I can't image a realistic system where plastics would make toxic more available to biota.
“It's funny, I actually started out by caring about trash in the water, and most of the time now all I do is talk about neighborhoods,” Lawson said.
. . .
Lawson said the research will help determine how much plastic is in the Chesapeake Bay, which would set a baseline to help determine if the level of pollution is going up or down. They also want to know the types of plastic, which would provide insight into where that plastic is coming from.

“Is it film? Is it microbeads?” Lawson said. “What kind of chemical is it contaminated with?”

Lawson expects to have lab results from the trawl later this year. The last phase of their study will examine the digestive tracts of fish species frequently caught by fishermen, in order to determine how much plastic the animals are consuming.
Plastics are a visual eyesore for sure, and  in large form occasionally cause damage to fish, turtles etc, by either getting ingested and blocking bowels or wrapping around them. They plug certain uses of water (including the water pumps that cool outboard motors). But I've never seen a reasonable case made that microplastics do much but exist. I'd like to see evidence that it has the potential to do some reasonable amount of harm before we have a hissy fit about it, and spend a ton of money

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