Plastic particles are an increasing cause of water pollution. The particles include nurdles, microbeads from cosmetics products and the breakdown products of plastic litter. Nurdles are pre-production plastic resin pellet typically under 5 mm (0.20 in) in diameter found outside of the typical plastics manufacturing stream. Pellets are an intermediate good used to produce plastic final products. "Mermaid's tears" is a term sometimes used to describe the pollution.
Approximately 60 billion pounds (27 million tonnes) of nurdles are manufactured annually in the United States. One pound of pelletized HDPE contains approximately 25,000 nurdles (approximately 20 mg per nurdle).
Environmental impactNurdles are a major contributor to marine debris. During a three month study of Orange County beaches researchers found them to be the most common beach contaminant. Nurdles comprised roughly 98% of the beach debris collected in a 2001 Orange County study. Waterborne nurdles may either be a raw material of plastic production, or from larger chunks of plastic that have been ground down. A major source of plastic may be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing collection of marine debris known for its high concentrations of plastic litter.
Nurdles that escape from the plastic production process into waterways or oceans have become a significant source of ocean and beach pollution. Marine life is severely threatened by these small pieces of plastic: the creatures that make up the base of the marine food chain, such as krill, are prematurely dying by choking on nurdles. Nurdles have frequently been found in the digestive tracts of various marine creatures, causing physiological damage by leaching plasticizers such as phthalates. Nurdles can carry two types of micropollutants in the marine environment: native plastic additives and hydrophobic pollutants absorbed from seawater.
Concentrations of PCBs and DDE on nurdles collected from Japanese coastal waters were found to be up to 1 million times higher than the levels detected in surrounding seawater.
Plastic microbeads used in cosmetic exfoliating products are also found in water.
Recent article about nurdles posted 10-31-11 in Infrastructure Solutions.
Officials Work to Eliminate Plastic Pellets from San Francisco Baywritten by jzagoudis
Federal, state and municipal authorities have launched a first-in-the-nation enforcement effort to eliminate the discharge of pre-production plastic into the waters of California. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board), State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have joined forces on the program.
The collaborative enforcement effort is being done under the authority of the State Water Board’s Statewide Industrial Storm Water Permit. The first environmental cleanup ordered as a result of this joint effort is underway in San Leandro.
“This collaborative effort is part of a new front in the battle against plastic debris and trash,” said Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the SF Bay Regional Water Board. “Storm water runoff is becoming a large part of our enforcement focus, because it affects water quality in every part of our region, and the state.”
Pre-production plastic pellets are often called “nurdles”.
They are very small and contribute to the growing problem of plastic debris in inland and coastal waters of California and the United States. Nurdles are often discharged while being unloaded from railcars at plastic manufacturing facilities, or being handled at those operations. They then wash into storm drains and out to open water with storm runoff.
Fish, birds and other marine life eat spilled nurdles and other small pieces of plastic. The plastic does not break down quickly, displaces food in the animals’ stomach, and can lead to starvation.
"Nurdles may sound harmless, but these small plastic pellets can do great damage to water bodies like San Francisco Bay," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "To protect our water resources, EPA is partnering with the state to require manufacturers to take steps to prevent pellet spills."
Oyster Bay Regional Shoreline in San Leandro is the first cleanup site because of the collaborative effort between state and federal environmental agencies. Surprise inspections at four plastic manufacturers resulted in the discovery of nurdles discharges from those facilities, some of which ended up in Oyster Bay.
The cleanup area includes habitat for both the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. The contracted cleanup crew will therefore do its work during the lunar high tide, when the animals will have moved to higher ground and the plastic debris will float to the surface.