A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

UCLA report urges new global policy effort to tackle crisis of plastic litter in oceans

Published October 29, 2013 in the EIN News

Plastic litter is one of the most significant problems facing the world's marine environments. Yet in the absence of a coordinated global strategy, an estimated 20 million tons of plastic litter enter the ocean each year.

A new report by authors from UCLA School of Law's Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment and UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability explores the sources and impacts of plastic marine litter and offers domestic and international policy recommendations to tackle these growing problems — a targeted, multifaceted approach aimed at protecting ocean wildlife, coastal waters, coastal economies and human health.

"Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter: A Global Action Agenda," the Emmett Center's most recent Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Brief, documents the devastating effects of plastic marine litter, detailing how plastic forms a large portion of our waste stream and typically does not biodegrade in marine environments. Plastic marine litter has a wide range of adverse environmental and economic impacts, from wildlife deaths and degraded coral reefs to billions of dollars in cleanup costs, damage to sea vessels, and lost tourism and fisheries revenues. The brief describes the inadequacy of existing international legal mechanisms to resolve this litter crisis, calling on the global community to develop a new international treaty while also urging immediate action to implement regional and local solutions.

"Plastic marine litter is a growing global environmental threat imposing major economic costs on industry and government," said report co-author Mark Gold, an associate director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Marine plastic pollution slowly degrades and has spread to every corner of the world's oceans, from remote islands to the ocean floor. Voluntary half-measures are not preventing devastating global impacts to marine life, the economy and public health. Although there is no one panacea, we have identified the top 10 plastic pollution–prevention actions that can be implemented now to begin drastically reducing plastic marine litter."

In "Stemming the Tide of Plastic Marine Litter," the authors review the universe of studies, policies and international agreements relevant to the problem and provide a suite of recommendations to achieve meaningful reductions in plastic marine litter. The report's "Top 10" list of recommended actions includes a new international treaty with strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms; domestic and local regulatory actions, such as bans of the most common and damaging types of plastic litter; extended producer-responsibility programs; and the creation of an "ocean friendly" certification program for plastic products.

"Because global mismanagement of plastic is fueling the growing marine litter problem, policy responses are needed at all levels, from the international community of nations down to national and local communities," said report co-author Cara Horowitz, executive director of the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment. "We can act now to rapidly scale up effective policies and programs to address plastic marine litter. And hopefully, international collaboration to reduce plastic litter will lay a foundation for broader cooperation on other significant issues affecting the health of our oceans."

Plastic marine litter has its origins in both land- and ocean-based sources, from untreated sewage and industrial and manufacturing sites to ships and oil and gas platforms. Pushed by the natural motion of wind and ocean currents — often over long distances — the litter is present in oceans worldwide, as well as in sea floor sediment and coastal sands. As the particles break down and disperse, they have a wide range of adverse environmental, public health and economic consequences with the potential to kill wildlife, destroy natural resources and disrupt the food chain.

The Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Briefs are published by UCLA School of Law and the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment in conjunction with researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines and the broader environmental law community. They are made possible through a generous donation by Anthony "Tony" Pritzker, managing partner and co-founder of The Pritzker Group. The briefs provide expert analysis to further public dialogue on issues impacting the environment. All papers in the series are available here.

UCLA School of Law, founded in 1949, is the youngest major law school in the nation and has established a tradition of innovation in its approach to teaching, research and scholarship. With approximately 100 faculty and 1,100 students, the school pioneered clinical teaching, is a leader in interdisciplinary research and training, and is at the forefront of efforts to link research to its effects on society and the legal profession.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Plastic Ocean - book review

Published October 28th, 2013 by Elizabeth Claire Alberts in the ecologist.org
Elizabeth Claire Alberts discovers how a sea captain's chance discovery launched a mission to clear up the
Great Pacific Garbage Patch ...


In 1997, Captain Charles Moore steered his catamaran into the doldrums of the mid-Pacific Ocean, hoping to catch winds further south that would push his boat back to California. While sailing through this stretch of water, Moore made a shocking discovery - the ocean was filled with plastic.

Mainstream media has often referred to this accumulation of plastic as a "floating island" or a "mountain of trash". In Plastic Ocean, Moore sets the record straight, describing it as "plastic soup ... lightly seasoned with plastic flakes, bulked out here and there with ‘dumplings': buoys, net clumps, floats, crates, and other ‘macro debris'".

In his hometown of Alamitos Bay, south of Los Angeles, Moore had founded the Algalita Marine Research Institute in 1994 to help clean up the coastal waters. But he couldn't believe he had found plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His determination to do something about it shaped his path for the next 15 years.

Plastic Ocean chronicles Moore's journey as he evolves into a citizen-scientist intent on curbing plastic pollution. Shortly after returning to California, Moore organised a research expedition back to the rubbish zone in the Pacific, an area now called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

He and his crew trawled for plastic samples, yielding alarming results. Plastic outnumbers life-giving zooplankton by a factor of six to one. Filter feeders appear to ingest more plastic than plankton, suggesting that plastic has the potential to disrupt the entire marine food chain.

While much of his journey takes place in the rough waters of the ocean, Moore embarks on an equally rough ride on land. To obtain the best exposure for his research, he set his sights on publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

With humour and humility, he describes the challenges of navigating his way to scientific acceptance. First he has to learn the ropes of writing a research paper. Then he has to fight for his voice to be heard at scientific conferences, often sponsored by the very corporations responsible for plastic proliferation.

None of these obstacles deters Moore. In fact, they impassion him further. He sails his catamaran back to the mid-Pacific to collect additional samples. He co-authors more research papers. He spreads awareness about plastic pollution in conferences, films and news segments, and on late-night talk shows.

Spliced with Moore's own story is the story of plastic itself. As grandson of a past president of Hancock Oil, Moore speaks with authority about converting oil into different types of plastic. Plastic consumption burgeoned after World War II with the invention of disposable products.

Although Moore acknowledges the many benefits of plastic, he argues that single-use plastics like shopping bags and drink bottles have contributed to the degradation of our natural world. On one voyage, he paints an eerie scene of crisp-looking plastic bags fluttering across the seascape. "We're in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by a sea of plastic shopping bags," he says. "It's as if a tornado tore the roof off a floating shopping mall just beyond the horizon line."

Yet, as Moore illustrates, the problem of plastic pollution is much more than aesthetic. In the chapter Bad Chemistry, he explains how new research shows that plastic acts like a sponge, soaking up other contaminants present in the ocean. Plastic is already toxic in itself, poisoning the filter feeders that ingest it. But as plastic works its way up the oceanic food chain, toxicity escalates.

Plastic Ocean is an incredibly important book, explaining the urgency of the plastic pollution problem. Ocean conservation efforts tend to focus only on issues like overfishing, acidification, and sea-level rise. Yet plastic pollution poses another big threat, and we had better start paying more attention right now.

While the hard-hitting facts in this book can feel a little depressing, Moore provides plenty of hope in possible solutions. For instance, he endorses "chemical recycling", a process that cracks plastic polymer back to its monomers for reuse. (However, he notes that this process is "not perfect by closed-loop standards".)

He also advocates marine-biodegradable plastic that aquatic bacteria can break down. The most effective path to change, Moore suggests, is a consumer groundswell against plastics: "In my decade and a half in the trenches," he writes, "I've seen tremendous growth in awareness."

Plastic Ocean will generate and increase this awareness about plastic pollution. I certainly feel different about plastic - and about the changes I could make to help save the oceans.

Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a writer and environmental activist based in Australia. www.elizabethclairealberts.com

For more information and to purchase the book visit here:


Cleaning up plastic litter in remote, open ocean areas: Guidance for prospective inventors of plastic-capture systems

Read the Press Release, Scientists provide first public guidance on array of challenges in cleaning up plastic litter from oceans successfully here.

Distributed by MarineDebris.Info

Marine debris, and particularly plastic marine debris, poses a significant global threat to marine life. Growing public awareness of this threat, including the recognition that floating ocean plastics tend to congregate in remote areas of the open ocean (the so-called “garbage patches”), has inspired some individuals and groups to conceive of systems for cleaning up debris at sea. These systems have ranged from simple net-based methods to ambitious giant filtering systems that would stretch hundreds of kilometers across the sea surface, among other ideas.

These ideas are laudable for their goal of removing plastics from the sea. However, the proposed systems typically fail to account for real-world ocean conditions and/or the many ecological and engineering-related challenges that would face any cleanup effort on the open ocean. In fact, the array and scale of challenges involved in any realistic cleanup of remote ocean areas have been cited often by experts as evidence that marine debris management should focus on preventing new litter from entering the ocean, rather than attempting to remove the litter that is already there.1

Still, many seemingly intractable challenges faced by humans over time have been solved by bright ideas. And as long as people are aware of and moved by the problem of ocean plastic debris, there will be attempts to solve it. In this light, we do not want to dissuade potential innovators from examining the issue of marine debris cleanup. Rather, we want to inform and channel their innovation.

This document presents general guidance for the cleanup of floating plastic debris in the open ocean. This guidance was produced and edited in June-July 2013 by a team of experienced marine debris researchers (see “Background on this document”) and was shared in July with the global MarineDebris.Info community of marine debris managers, researchers, and conservationists for additional input. This list is intended to evolve and improve over time as further knowledge is gained. We also strongly recommend that all prospective inventors of cleanup systems consult experienced ocean engineers early in their development processes.

Systems for open ocean cleanup of marine plastics should account for, and overcome, the following challenges:
  1. The size and depth of the ocean gyres within which floating marine plastics tend to gather. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the best-known location of a “garbage patch” or trash vortex, has a surface area of approximately 20,000,000 km2 — more than twice the size of the U.S. Thus any system that would tow nets through the gyre to capture debris, for example, must either factor that surface area into its design or determine a way to avoid having to transit the whole area. In addition, in even the most densely polluted regions of the subtropical gyres, microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm in size) are frequently present at concentrations of less than one piece per square meter, requiring extensive areal coverage to recover just one kilogram of plastic. Furthermore, average water depth of the open ocean is 4,000 meters (2.5 miles); therefore, any cleanup system relying upon moored structures must account for this extreme depth. 
  2. Depth and concentration of microplastics. Floating plastic debris, and particularly microplastics, can be mixed below the surface in even light winds. The depth of the mixing depends on the strength of the wind and the physical structure of the ocean in that particular area. It may range from a few meters depth during typical low wind conditions in summer months to 100-150 meters depth during stormier winter months. Any cleanup system, particularly one that relies on surface-floating mechanisms, must account for subsurface mixing of debris. 
  3. Capturing plastics while not harming marine life that is co-located with the plastics. The goal of ocean plastic removal is ultimately to help sea life. If cleanup systems hurt or kill sea life in the process — such as fish or even plankton — they are counterproductive. Most zooplankton, for example, do not survive being caught in a standard net, never mind spun in a centrifuge where they lose critical appendages like their antennae and feeding apparatus. A system that relies on nets or centrifuges will require engineered solutions to avoid or minimize these effects. In addition, indirect environmental impacts of cleanup systems — such as from fuel use by cleanup vessels scouring the ocean, or from incineration of collected plastics at sea — should be considered and mitigated.  
  4. Potential for entanglement of marine life in the systems. Similar to the above guideline, any cleanup system that poses an indirect entanglement threat to wildlife, such as seabirds or cetaceans, must be reengineered. In the U.S., any activity that might harm protected species is illegal without a permit.  
  5. Strength and stability in extreme sea conditions. Any cleanup system is in danger of becoming marine debris itself if it breaks up, such as from storm action, high waves, or ship collisions. A successful system must be able to avoid extreme weather or be sturdy enough to withstand such conditions, and must be detectable by fast-moving vessels. 
  6. Maintenance and fouling. The reality of operating equipment in extreme environments, of which the open ocean is an example, is that equipment breaks down. There must be a cost-effective means to maintain and repair the cleanup system over time, particularly for systems that involve long-term deployment. Furthermore, there must be a way to account for, and address, the rapid biofouling that occurs when any equipment is placed in the ocean. 
  7. The physical properties of ocean-weathered plastic. Floating marine debris is largely composed of polyethylene and polypropylene — common plastic types with a density less than that of seawater. (Polystyrene, which has a density roughly equal to that of seawater, may also be present but is much less abundant in floating debris.) Ultraviolet light degrades these plastic polymers, making them brittle and difficult to recycle. Cleanup schemes that propose to recycle and/or market the plastic they collect should be aware of the technical issues, and of the actual market value of the plastic they collect, which may be low. Recyclers with the technology to “upcycle” mixed ocean plastic into consumer-quality polymers remain very few (Envision Plastics, which partners with home products manufacturer Method on a recycled ocean plastic bottle, is one). As a result, the market for collected ocean plastic is underdeveloped at best. 
  8. Legal issues. There are extensive laws and regulations governing the deployment of equipment at sea. For example, structures cannot be a hazard to navigation or a threat to protected species. In the U.S., multiple permits from state and/or federal agencies may be required for cleanup devices. The permitting process is lengthy, onerous, and expensive, and may require specialized legal consultation. On the high seas — marine areas beyond national jurisdiction — the applicability and relevance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea must be evaluated in each case.
Background on this document
This guidance was drafted by:
  • John Davis, M.M.A., of MARE
  • Miriam Goldstein, Ph.D., of California Sea Grant and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego
Editors and contributors included:
  • Courtney Arthur, M.S., Research Specialist, NOAA Marine Debris Program
  • Pete Davison, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Kara Lavender Law, Ph.D., Research Professor, Sea Education Association (SEA)
  • Chelsea Rochman, Ph.D., Aquatic Health Program, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis
The guidance was submitted for additional review to the MarineDebris.Info community.
We welcome additional editors and contributors; this guidance is intended to be a living document. To provide input, please contact John Davis, project supervisor of MarineDebris.Info, at jdavis@marineaffairs.org.

For interviews, please contact:
About MarineDebris.Info
MarineDebris.Info is the global knowledge-sharing community for marine debris management and research, with members representing government agencies, research institutions, conservation organizations, industry, and more (www.marinedebris.info).  It consists of a listserv, website, and live chat events allowing members of the MarineDebris.Info community to interact with leaders in the field.

MarineDebris.Info is a project of Marine Affairs Research and Education (MARE), a Seattle-based organization that provides a range of knowledge-sharing services to ocean managers and conservationists worldwide.  These services include the OpenChannels forum on ocean planning (openchannels.org), the MPA News service on marine protected areas (mpanews.org), and the Marine Ecosystems and Management information service (meam.net). MARE collaborates on several of its projects, including MarineDebris.Info, with the University of Washington.

Make packaging from ocean plastic? Yes, we can!

Published in the Press Dispensary 2013-10-25
People would say: there's no way you can take plastic out of the middle of the ocean and make useable, recyclable packaging from it. Well, we've done just that!

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard provides designers and manufacturers with a unique framework for sustainable innovation, where the aim is to create products that have a positive impact on society and the environment, rather than one that is merely less negative. Method cleaning products, widely available in shops and supermarkets throughout the UK, have more than 60 products Cradle to Cradle Certified. One of their recent breakthroughs is to make product packaging from ocean waste. And if you think you can tell the difference, you’re probably wrong!

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute spoke with Adam Lowry, co-founder and 'chief greenskeeper of Method.

Please tell us more about the ‘ocean plastic bottle’. How did the idea come about?

When you study the problem of ocean pollution – which is mostly plastic – what you learn is that the only real solution is prevention. As you and I know, there's no practical way of going there and cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s not an island; it's a soup, so the main issue is that any clean-up effort is impractical. The real solution is preventing the plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place. And if you're going to do that, one of the very best ways to do it is simply to use the plastic that's already on the planet.

However, recycling rates in the US and UK are very low. It's estimated that less than half - perhaps as low as 25% - of plastic gets recycled, which means for every pound of plastic that's recycled, three pounds end up in landfill or in the environment somewhere. So what we need to get better at is closing the material loop, and using the plastic that’s already on the planet.

This is something that Method has done for many years. There's no virgin plastic material in any of the PET we make. On its own, this is not something that's very interesting for the mainstream consumer to think about. So what we wanted to achieve through the ocean plastic project was simultaneously raise awareness about this important issue and point to the solution.

Essentially, we have created a product that people said would be impossible. People would say: there's no way you can take plastic out of the middle of the ocean and make useable, recyclable packaging from it. Well, we've done just that, and you can buy it at your regular supermarket. By demonstrating that the impossible is possible, we're removing the excuse that any company has for not using 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, like we do.

How about what's inside? Can that have a positive influence on the environment as well?

There is a general belief - often perpetuated by the media - that only harsh chemicals can remove harsh stains. However, Method is proving that this is not the case.

I have a four year old, so I’m very familiar with the issue of harsh stains! The idea that a product has to be full of 'dirty' chemicals in order to clean something is really an outdated mindset.

I would like to ask consumers simply to challenge their assumptions that only the products with harsh chemicals will get something clean. I would encourage them to give products like Method a try, of course; but it's not just us. There are many other high quality products in many different categories that are sustainably designed and still perform highly.

In time, what would you like Method to be remembered for?

I would like Method to be seen as the company that proved that business can be good for the world. I would also like people to look back and see that we did it in one of the most uninteresting consumer categories there is!

What I mean by that is simply that people don't think about cleaning products very much. But if you can make beautiful, high performance, highly sustainable products in a category as commoditized as household cleaning and be successful, then you can do it anywhere!

Hopefully, 50 years from now, the majority of businesses and in all sorts of categories will have followed our lead, and together we will have created a world where business is the driving force behind sustainable change.

To find out more about Cradle to Cradle products and Cradle to Cradle product certification, visit www.c2c-certified.org.
- ends -

Notes for editors
The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a non-profit organization, administers the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard. It was created to bring about  a new industrial revolution that turns the making of things into a positive force for society, economy, and the planet. The continuous improvement quality standard was gifted to the Institute by William McDonough and Michael Braungart after more than 20 years of development with some of the world’s leading  brands. For more information, visit: http://www.c2c-certified.org.

Founded in 2000, Method is headquartered in San Francisco, Calif. Today, Method is the leading innovator of premium eco-conscious home and personal care products. Method can be found in more than 40,000 retail locations throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. For more information, visit: http://www.methodproducts.co.uk/

Daan Elffers, Consultant
Tel: 07833 257028 / 01223 210 560
Email: daan@emg-csr.com
Site: www.emg-csr.com

'Plastic Whale Project' at UM illustrates Great Pacific Garbage Patch problem

 Published October 17
101813 big whale mg.jpg
Heather Higinbotham points out to her daughter Scout, 7, details of a 32-foot-long replica of a gray whale made entirely of plastic bags, bottles and assorted garbage collected from our environment. The sculpture was on display Thursday at the Dennison Theatre at the University of Montana.

In the dark theater, on a dimly lit stage, a 32-foot-long gray whale made of plastic bags looked so lifelike, it seemed to be gliding through the depths of the ocean.

As visitors came to see the one-day exhibit of “The Plastic Whale Project,” the iconic shape and colossal size of the subject prompted the same reaction – no matter what their age.

“When I walked in and saw it I went, ‘Whoa – that’s pretty life-size scale,’ ” said 10-year-old Liam Queneau, who visited the unusual art piece that took center stage at the University of Montana’s Dennison Theatre on Thursday afternoon.

“And then I said, ‘Wow.’ ”

Made from more than 9,000 plastic bags and created by 900 children and adults in Thurston County, Wash., the sculpture was originally part of an outreach program to engage the public in understanding plastics in our environment, explained Carrie Ziegler.

Ziegler spearheaded the project during her professional work with Thurston County Solid Waste, and brought it to completion with her vision and her after-hours life as a studio painter, muralist and sculptor.

“As an artist, it was a logical step for me to incorporate art and creativity into the educational program,” Ziegler said during a rare quiet moment when a viewer wasn’t asking her about the dramatic whale.

“When I thought about how to educate people about plastics in our environment and to reduce the use of plastic bags, I wanted something a lot of different people could be involved with,” she said. “Then I learned about trash in our oceans – and the Gyre.”

What is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – or Gyre – is a vortex of human debris, mostly plastic, that collects where currents collide in the central North Pacific.

“It’s more like a garbage soup, where the top 30 meters of ocean is filled with plastics that don’t biodegrade,” Ziegler said. “In size, it’s about as big as two states of Texas.”

With the awful reality of the gyre fresh in her mind, she remembered the story of a gray whale that washed up on a Thurston County beach in 2010.

When biologists did a necropsy on the whale, they found in its stomach a host of disturbing non-biodegradable items, including more than 30 plastic bags, tennis balls and a pair of sweatpants.

Ziegler said connecting the two made artistic sense, which was how she decided the whale would be the subject of her community project, and plastic bags would be the medium.

Consider this, Ziegler said as she explained the sculpture to viewers flowing around the whale – which seemed suspended in air, but was actually firmly anchored to the ground by four shopping carts.

“The skin of the whale is made of plastic bags that were braided together by more than 400 schoolchildren,” she said. “And on the skin is a map of the Pacific Ocean and the Great Pacific Gyre.

“In the United States, the average use of a plastic bag is 12 minutes, and each person uses about 300 to 350 bags a year.”

At 32 feet long and weighing about 250 pounds, the sculpture is smaller than its real-life counterpart, but it is made to scale, Zeigler said.

The whale’s eye is made from plastic bottles, its teeth from the handles of plastic forks and spoons. On its right side, the whale’s respiratory system emerges, made from plastic cups and milk jugs.

“I think it is absolutely spectacular,” said Austin Roos, a UM student. “It really incorporates at lot of interesting elements and it definitely inspires discussion about our direct influence on the environment.

“The use of mapping on the side of the whale, showing how plastic leaves land and enters the ocean to amalgamate in the middle of the ocean is really powerful.

“I really, really enjoy this piece.”

Although the exhibit lasted only one day due to an unusual shipping arrangement, the whale’s short visit was worth the undertaking, said Barbara Koostra, who as director of UM’s Montana Museum of Art & Culture was responsible for making the event happen.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to offer something that is both an art piece and an education piece,” Koostra said.

“It was kind of a last-minute opportunity, and we knew it was a powerful exhibit, so we wanted to do something different to display it,” she said. “Our galleries are always booked out so far in advance, but the Dennison Theatre wasn’t being used so we thought putting it on stage would be a really theatrical way to present it.”

Behind the scenes: plastic-eating barnacles in the North Pacific Gyre

I’ve been temporarily released from my social media silence to talk about my latest paper, which is published in the open-access journal PeerJ. So first of all HAI EVERYONE! Second of all – here’s how I accidentally discovered that gooseneck barnacles are eating plastic, and why it’s so difficult to figure out what effect that is having on the ocean.

On my 2009 expedition to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, otherwise known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” I collected a bunch of barnacles, along with samples of a lot of other organisms that were growing on the debris, because I was interested in seeing what species were there. Gooseneck barnacles look kind of freaky. Like acorn barnacles (the ones that more commonly grow on docks), they’re essentially a little shrimp living upside down in a shell and eating with their feet. Unlike acorn barnacles, gooseneck barnacles have a long, muscular stalk.

This is a figure from our paper that shows (a) barnacles growing on a buoy; (b) a closeup of an individual barnacle. The body is inside the white shell, and the stalk is just muscle; and (c) Plastic that we pulled out of a single barnacle's guts.
This is a figure from our paper that shows (a) barnacles growing on a buoy; (b) a closeup of an individual barnacle. The body is inside the white shell, and the stalk is just muscle; and (c) Plastic that we pulled out of a single barnacle’s guts.

It took me a couple years to get around to processing those samples, but eventually I found myself in the lab dissecting barnacles in order to identify them. As I sat there, I thought “Well, I’m working on these barnacles anyway – wonder what they’re eating?” So I pulled out the intestine of the barnacle I was working on, cut it open, and a bright blue piece of plastic popped out. I reached into my jar o’ dead barnacles and dissected a few more, and found plastic in their guts as well.

Thinking about it logically, it makes a lot of sense that gooseneck barnacles are eating plastic. They are really hardy, able to live on nearly any floating surface from buoys to turtles, so they’re very common in the high-plastic areas of the gyre. They live right at the surface, where tiny pieces of buoyant plastic float. And they’re extremely non-picky eaters that will shove anything they can grab into their mouth.

My jars of samples. The original jar o' barnacles is in the middle.
My jars of samples. The original jar o’ barnacles is in the middle.

But, since I didn’t really collect barnacles with this study in mind, I didn’t have enough samples to figure out how widespread this phenomena might be. Fortunately, I’d been lucky enough to collaborate with the wonderful Sea Education Association and one of their chief scientists, Deb Goodwin, for several years. SEA kindly took samples for us, and Deb, once a perfectly respectable remote sensing expert, got deep into some pretty smelly barnacle guts.

After dissecting 385 barnacles, Deb and I found that 33.5% – one-third – had plastic in their guts. Most barnacles had eaten just a few particles, but we found a few that were absolutely filled with plastic, to a maximum of 30 particles, which is a lot of plastic in an animal that is just a couple inches long.  We also analyzed the type of plastic in the barnacle guts, and found that it was approximately representative of plastic on the ocean surface – the barnacles are probably just grabbing whatever they come across and shoving it into their mouths.  Barnacles are perfectly capable of pooping out plastic – I observed plastic packaged up in fecal pellets, ready to be excreted the next time the barnacle had access to a couple minutes and a magazine – so it is very likely that more barnacles are eating plastic than we were able to measure.

The circles show where we sampled, and the dark part of the circle is the percentage of barnacles that had eaten plastic. The inset shows where we were in the ocean - the rectangle between North American and Hawaii.
The circles show where we sampled, and the dark part of the circle is the percentage of barnacles that had eaten plastic. The inset shows where we were in the ocean – the rectangle between North American and Hawaii.

So, this is disturbing. As I’ve discussed many times, there is a ton of plastic in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyres (but no island!) and it is being eaten by birds, turtles, and fish. And now we’ve documented plastic ingestion in a very common invertebrate – probably the numerous animal living attached to the plastic – as well. But just finding plastic in barnacle guts does not really tell us much about how plastic is impacting the oceanic ecosystem. This is because we don’t really understand how barnacles are interacting with the rest of the ocean.

Gooseneck barnacles aren’t necessarily incredibly central to the North Pacific Gyre ecosystem. The barnacles are voracious predators, but since plastic is so patchy, it’s not clear that they eat enough zooplankton to really affect the ecosystem – and a lot of the food I found in the barnacle guts were their own cyprid babies.

(Barnacles are nasty cannibals, apparently.) They’re eaten by a few predators – a pretty little sea slug and some crabs – but fish don’t seem that interested in barnacles, maybe because those fish didn’t evolve with a ton of floating debris. If barnacles are an important prey item, it is possible that their ingestion of plastic particles could transfer plastic or pollutants through the food web, but it is far from clear this is the case.

However, the most dire effects could be the most subtle. The subtropical gyres are 40% of the entire earth’s surface, and so they are very important to controlling the way that nutrients and carbon move around in the ocean. The microbes and animals that live on plastic debris are not the same as the microbes and animals that float around in the ocean, and may not act in the same way. It’s such a cliché for a scientist to call for more research, but we just don’t understand enough about the way that the ocean works, and enough about the way that plastic affects the ocean, to really say what the effects of barnacles eating plastic might be.

And the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is a really nice place! Don't think of it as JUST a giant trash pile!
And the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is a really
nice place! It’s good to know what is going on there!

Of course, none of this uncertainty changes the fact that plastic trash does not belong in the ocean, and we need to be a lot better about preventing it from getting in there in the first place. However, I am skeptical of plastic cleanup schemes, so please read these Open Ocean Cleanup Guidelines (which I co-authored) and Dr. Martini’s post before you suggest that we just clean it up. I think we are probably stuck with the plastic pollution that we have, so understanding what it is doing to the ocean is important.
I’ll be back in a couple weeks to do another behind-the-scenes post on a second debris-related paper! In the meantime, I’m happy to answer your questions about the barnacles.

Barnacles Eating Plastic A Sign Of Our Synthetic Times

Posted: Christian Cotroneo in the Huffington Post Canada

When marine biologist Miriam Goldstein sliced open a barnacle's belly, she saw a tiny plastic bauble.

So she spilled a few hundred more barnacle guts -- and found humanity's synthetic soul.

"I think it speaks to the ubiquity of plastic in the North Pacific," she tells the Huffington Post Canada. "There is a little tiny piece of plastic spread out over thousands upon thousands of miles of the open ocean really far away from land. It is really an enormous problem."

gooseneck barnacle
Goldstein, an oceanographer at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography plucked the barnacles from the notorious North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

A vast expanse of plastic in the north Pacific, it's commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- a sprawling indictment of our wasteful ways, where coffee cups, bags, toys, and whatever-you-wrapped-your-sandwich-in clumps together in the North Pacific.

And it's increasingly finding its way into the food chain.

"There are whales and sea birds and sea turtles and fish all eating plastic," Goldstein says. "It's not surprising that barnacles are too."

Gooseneck barnacles -- Goldstein describes them as "essentially a little shrimp living upside down in a shell and eating with their feet" -- may be able to handle the plastic better than other marine animals.

"It really appears from looking at their guts that the plastic was just passing through," she adds.

In that case, the barnacles would be doing us no favours, as the plastic isn't broken down.
Sea turtles and birds, on the other hand, show well-documented signs of intestinal blockage after eating plastic. Many simply starve.

Barnacles, on the other hand, are much more likely to serve as quiet, gnawing condemnation of our plastic ways.

"I think we should be concerned that the ocean is actually covered in a sprinkling of plastic particles," she says. "The barnacles are reflecting the fact that there is a tonne of plastic in the open ocean.

"We need to do more to understand what that might mean. We don don't know. This is a pretty new and large-scale and depressing problem. Plastic has only been around as a consumer product since the 1950s."

It all reminds her of an ancient culture that "used to think that the soul was in the stomach"

Only trouble is it's our soul.

Monterey Peninsula's Marine Life Studies fosters love of ocean, whales

Programs focus on education, research

Posted:   10/19/2013 By DENNIS TAYLOR in the Monterey Herald

She was 41 by the time she saw her first whale off the coast of Maui, and Michigan-born Peggy West-Stap says it changed her life.

"I immediately decided I wanted to provide the opportunity for anybody to have the same experience," said Stap, 58, who in 2006 founded Marine Life Studies, a Monterey Peninsula environmental organization specializing in research, education and conservation surrounding the protection of marine wildlife.

Stap and a gaggle of volunteer ocean stewards were hosts Saturday of a five-hour whale-watching cruise on Monterey Bay for "Flip for Whales," a special fundraiser to keep the nonprofit alive and thriving.

The day was a dandy 70 degrees, with placid waters. The crew and passengers of the 60-foot vessel "High Spirits" spotted around 50 whales — mostly humpbacks — plus a variety of other sea life.

"We saw whales breaching, coming up to feed. ... It was just a stellar day," said Jerry Perezchica, the organization's program manager. "We also saw lots of sea lions in mass formations because as the humpbacks were feeding, they also were expelling food, and the surrounding marine life was taking advantage that."

The economic climate for nonprofits is challenging nowadays — grants have diminished or vanished altogether, and donations have largely dried up. But Stap and her staff are determined to battle the tides for their cause.

"My greatest love is the ocean, doing research on whales and dolphins, teaching research techniques to our interns, taking kids, teenagers, college students and adults out on the water so they can experience it personally and develop a love of their own," she said.

"We've educated people from the Midwest, where I'm originally from, about the fact that anything they do there will affect our waterways and oceans. If we can show those people how wonderful our oceans are, and send them back home with that knowledge, maybe we can reduce the amount of plastic use."

Plastic is the ocean's enemy because it never goes away — it only degrades into smaller particles. Plastic and other contaminants from waters like Lake Erie — which has more parts per million of plastic than the infamous stretch of floating debris known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — travel downstream to the ocean, where they are ingested by sea life (and, subsequently, ingested by humans).

Marine Life Studies takes a multi-pronged approach to education that includes Stap's own creation, Take It to the Streets, a regular cleanup effort in which volunteers pick up trash before it can reach storm drains, which flow into Monterey Bay.

In bimonthly cleanups since April, plus one in January, they've collected 66,335 items, including 44,844 cigarette butts, 9,493 plastic items and 7,001 paper items, plus metal, foam plastics, household items and medical hygiene items. The collection weighs 900 pounds.

"We don't just collect the trash, we analyze it," Perezchica said. "What we're striving to do is understand the source of the trash so we can better educate the public."

The organization also teaches classes at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County in Salinas and Seaside, then takes the students whale-watching. A highlight of a recent trip was when Nick Levin, skipper of the Star of Monterey, shot off his engines, then asked his passengers to be completely quiet so they could hear the one-of-a-kind sound of a blue whale expelling a 30-foot spout of water from its blow hole.

Stap and Marine Life Studies also are involved with an effort to track down and free whales that have become entangled in fishing line, fishing nets and other man-made debris.

The organization has attracted interns — who serve as ocean stewards on whale-watching excursions — from as far away as Australia and Ireland.

Sarah Colosimo, an Australian, said she was connected with the organization through a friend who had done humpback whale research with Stap.

"He told me that Peggy also did orca research, and I'm really passionate about orca whales, so I got in touch with her and here I am," Colosimo said. "It's a truly amazing experience. Doing research is totally cool — a dream come true. I had my first experience with an orca last weekend, which was a moment I had waited for my whole life."

Rachael Sutton, a Lake County resident, said part of her pleasure is watching other passengers enjoy their own whale-watching experience.

"We saw a lot of humpbacks today, and a whole bunch of sea lions jumping around, playing with them," she said. "It was so much fun watching other people experience this awesome thing we have here in Monterey. Connecting wildlife and people together is really great."

Twins Ben and Georgia Bence, both Monterey High School sophomores in the school's Marine Animal Ocean Science program, met Stap through a class she taught for the Regional Parks District.

"It's been my dream to have hands-on experiences like this and to really make a difference," Georgia Bence said. "This organization has given me so many amazing opportunities. Whales are so majestic and beautiful, and just being able to witness the power is overwhelming."

Marine Life Studies is a finalist in Toyota's "100 Cars For Good" competition, which will award a new vehicle to the organization that receives the most online votes. Visit www.100carsforgood.com on Nov. 9 to vote.

To donate to the program or learn more, call 901-3833 or see www.marinelifestudies.org.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or dtaylor@montereyherald.com.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Great Pacific Garbage Patch - the real story

Posted in Sail-World.com by Sailors for the Sea - Ocean Watch Essay

'Microplastics, picked up from the ocean in a bucket - Photo by Maggie Ostdahl'    .

No doubt you have heard of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and thought goodness, that’s terrible, someone should clean up that island of trash.

Here is the real story: There is no island of trash (it’s more of a trashy soup), and the solution is to stop our trash – mostly made of plastic – from getting to the middle of the ocean. Solving the problems of marine debris and plastic pollution is a perfect example of the need to think globally and act locally.

What is marine debris, and why does it end up in gyres?

Marine debris, as defined by NOAA, is 'any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes.'

One recent list of Top Ten items found in the ocean -  .. .  
There is a growing body of scientific studies about marine debris, its composition, and its direct and indirect impacts to marine wildlife and us. Some things we do know: most marine debris (60-80%) actually comes from land-based sources (e.g. humans), and that the majority of marine debris – again up to 80% in some studies – is some form of plastic.

Plastic can be a very useful material, but by design it is durable, lightweight, convenient – and now everywhere. These are the very characteristics that help blow it or carry it from our human community out to the ocean.

Let’s take as an example the ubiquitous plastic water bottle bought from a convenience store, or by the case (wrapped in more plastic, of course). When you are done with it, you put it in the recycling bin – but what if it the bottle never gets to the recycling plant? It could easily blow or wash into a nearby stream or river instead, especially if it goes into a storm drain (water through storm drains is not treated at wastewater treatment plants, so all trash that goes into them goes into the watershed and ultimately out to the ocean).

Along the way, sun and water may break the plastic bottle into smaller and smaller plastic pieces, but it will not degrade entirely. If this plastic bottle began in California, chances are it – or its plastic bits - are now in the large ocean currents that contribute to the North Pacific gyre.

Gyre accumulations -  .. .  
A gyre is any vortex in air or water, but the word is most commonly used to refer to natural convergence zones of ocean currents that rotate because of the Coriolis Effect. There are gyres in the five major ocean basins - North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, South Pacific and North Pacific. These gyres are not fixed areas; they shift depending on wind, waves, and currents. Scientists are actively studying the gyres, and how they tend to concentrate marine debris.

In the meantime, our trash continues to drift out to the middle of the ocean. Along the way, marine debris entangles or is eaten by fish, turtles, seabirds, whales, and so on. Plastic particles floating in the ocean can also be small platforms to transport environmental pollutants and invasive species throughout the sea.

And now, the solution:

The good news is that there are many individuals and groups around the world raising awareness and encouraging all of us to help slow and stop our tide of trash before it becomes marine debris. Plastic pollution and marine debris have been topics of a number of TED talks, and ‘trending topics’ in social media.

Local, state and national governments are crafting laws and policies to address marine debris. People and communities are changing trash habits, as we all begin to understand that there is no 'away' in our throwaway culture.

The case study of the San Francisco Bay Area:
What are some specific things going on in the Bay Area as I write this essay?

For one, there are year-round beach and shoreline clean-ups organized by Sea Scavenger Conservancy, Surfrider, Save the Bay, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Aquarium of the Bay, The Marine Mammal Center, and many others.

All of these groups and more also participate in Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean-up via California Coastal Clean-up Day. Coastal clean-up day is every year on the third Saturday in September – the 2013 Clean-up is around the corner on September 21!

Beyond coastal clean-ups, San Francisco and many surrounding cities and counties are changing our attitude and habits around trash and working towards Zero Waste. Aquarium of the Bay since 2005 has been part of the San Francisco Green Business program, which includes commitments to generate less waste in our daily operations. In fact, as of 2009 in San Francisco, residents and businesses MUST recycle and compost; it’s the law.

While European countries lead the way in reducing single-use plastic bag waste, in 2007 San Francisco was the first city in the United States to ban single-use plastic checkout bags at certain stores.

This bag ordinance was expanded in 2012; it has also been used as a model for cities. San Francisco has also banned the use of polystyrene food containers by all food vendors and restaurants.

Zero Waste rules and behaviours extend to all events taking place in the city, too. A great example is the 34th America’s Cup and their implementation of Clean Regattas Best Practices along with the America’s Cup Healthy Ocean Project, whose many partners have removed over 170 tons of trash and counting from the San Francisco Bay shoreline, keeping it from becoming marine debris.

Take Action:

You CAN make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean:

1. Pledge to help reduce marine debris and encourage others to do the same. There are a number of good campaigns to clean up the ocean - google them in your area, sign one, or sign them all. If there are none in your area, start one!

2. Follow through: reduce your plastic and trash habit with reusable grocery bags, reusable containers and straws and buying products with less packaging.

3. Join a clean-up near you on any local 'Clean-up Day' in your area

4. Learn more and spread the word. There are some great resources online, which include, referring to the San Francisco area: Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem, San Francisco Zero Waste, and NOAA's Marine Debris Program.
by Sailors for the Sea - Ocean Watch Essay

BPA Facts

Published in FindLaw.com, the leading and largest online resource for legal information. For basic legal issues to more complex ones, you’ll find thousands of helpful articles, a legal community to get answers to your specific questions, an attorney directory, blogs, news, DIY forms, and much more.

BPA in Plastic and Epoxy Resins
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic compound used to manufacture certain kinds of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that frequently appear in baby and water bottles, food packaging and medical and dental devices. Businesses have used BPA in products and packaging since 1957, and still currently use roughly 8 billion pounds of BPA per year as of 2011.

Problems can arise when BPA leaches out of the products that contain it and into the human body, however. Bisphenol A in the human body mimics the function of the female sex hor mone estrogen, and several studies have linked BPA to adverse health effects, especially for infants and children.

Researchers believe that BPA can leach from products when they are filled with hot or acidic materials or cleaned with harsh detergents. Consumers have filed several lawsuits against manufacturers of products containing BPA, and organizations have filed lawsuits to force government regulators to take action on the issue of BPA in food and beverage containers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently shifted its stance on BPA, stating that exposure to the chemical is of "some concern" for infants and children. Several states have also passed legislation banning the use of BPA in cer tain products, such as baby bottles.

What Products Contain BPA?
After intense media focus on the issue of BPA in consumer products, several manufacturers have ended the use of BPA in their products. Manufacturers still commonly use BPA in a range of products, however. Here are some examples of products that commonly contain, or used to contain, BPA:

• Canned foods, including canned infant for mula
• Aluminum soft drink cans
• Lunch boxes
• Many plastic food containers with recycling labels 3 and 7
• Reusable water bottles (both plastic and metal)
• Hard plastic baby bottles
• Sippy cups for young children

Many, but not all, of the plastic products marked with the recycling codes 3 and 7 contain BPA. Products with other recycling codes generally do not contain BPA.

What Risks Follow Exposure to BPA?
Since BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the human body, it has the potential to cause a wide range of health problems, especially for young children. Researchers have linked exposure to BPA with numerous issues, but it is important to note that the research into BPA exposure is still at an early stage.

Studies have found connections between BPA exposure and:
• Obesity
• Neurological development issues
• Increased risk of cancer
• Reproductive problems
• Hear t disease
• Sexual difficulties

BPA Lawsuits
Based on the health risks that have researchers have identified, several plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against manufacturers of products containing BPA. Those cases were consolidated into one multidistr ict lawsuit overseen by the Wester n District Court of Missouri. The plaintiffs have asserted several claims, including violation of state consumer protection statutes, fraud, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment, str ict product liability, breach of contract and negligence .

Defendants in the litigation originally included manufacturers of baby and water bottles and infant for mula producers, although the court dismissed the for mula defendants in late 2009.
At least one manufacturer has already settled the lawsuit against it. Philips agreed to offer refunds to purchasers of its Avent brand baby bottles and sippy cups, but continued to argue that it had offered adequate notice concerning the presence of BPA in the products.

In addition to lawsuits by consumers, the Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration seeking to force the agency to respond to a petition the NRDC submitted requesting a ban on BPA in food packaging.

BPA in Baby Bottles
As mentioned above, researchers studying the effects of BPA believe that exposure to the chemical can have serious impacts on the development of infants and young children. Because of this, the presence of BPA in baby bottles is of major concern to parents and regulators.

Most manufacturers of baby bottles and sippy cups have voluntar ily removed BPA from their products, but several states have gone further and banned BPA from children’s products altogether. While each ban is different, their general intent is to forbid the use of BPA in products meant for children, usually under the age of three years. Some of the products covered by the bans include baby bottles and sippy cups, formula and baby food.

So far, seven states have passed this type of ban - Minnesota, Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Washington, Ver mont,and New York.  Federal regulation is currently pending in Congress as well.

The science surrounding BPA suggests that exposure to the chemical can have negative impacts on health, especially for infants and children. While many manufacturers have voluntar ily stopped using BPA in their products, BPA was, and remains, present in a wide range of products. Litigation currently underway will determine the liability, if any, that manufacturers will face for their customer’s exposure to BPA.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Future Cities Of Floating Villas And Parks, Made From Ocean Plastic

Plastic waste is one of humanity's biggest legacies. Why not live in it?

The Maas river runs through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and empties into the North Sea. It also carries huge amounts of Europe's trash from its cities into the ocean.

Inspired by what's floating by, Dutch architect Ramon Knoester and his firm WHIM have spent the last four years dreaming up ways to turn one of our greatest environmental ills into built utopias on water. Knoester’s latest vision: Floating parks and villas.

In 2010, Knoester received a grant from the Netherlands Architecture Fund to develop a floating prototype out of hollow blocks of recycled plastic.

His designs contained a prefab foundation that fit together like puzzle pieces, the roofs embedded with solar cells and energy derived from waves. Originally, Knoester intended the project for the North Pacific Gyre, which harbors a massive, swirling convergence of microplastics commonly called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," but eventually he realized he'd have to scale down. Harvesting plastic from the middle of the ocean proved too difficult and costly.

"We started really big, but the main problem for the North Pacific Gyre is that the plastics there are really hard to collect. So far this technology hasn’t been developed to our knowledge," Knoester tells Co.Exist.

Knoester has adjusted his vision accordingly: Collaborating with students at Rotterdam University, local government officials, a chemist, a naval architect, and engineers, the Recycled Island project is now working on both housing and recreational areas built on debris collected at the mouth of the Maas in Rotterdam.

“Rotterdam is the last city the river runs through before it ends in the sea,” Knoester explains on the Recycled Island site. “Therefore, Rotterdam has a large potential in extracting the river’s floating waste before it reaches the sea and becomes part [of] the increasing floating oceanic debris.” Much of the city is also below sea level, Knoester adds. He claims that his floating environment is “climate proof and resistant to flood.”

Earlier this summer, Knoester published mock-ups of Re:Villa, a floating family home inspired by yachts. Unlike the luxury boats, Re:Villa aims to be self-sustaining, complete with a garden, compost toilets, and a rainwater filtration system. He also designed a public park on the water and plans to roll out a prototype of the experiment in a year.

"We think if we start with that, it’s a good beginning," Knoester says. "And of course, if we can prove a floating habitat, and the technology for gathering plastic improves in the North Pacific Gyre, then hopefully we can develop it there."

[Images via Recycled Island]

Plastic waste threatens lakes as well as oceans

Lake Garda  
Researchers found levels of plastics in Lake Garda similar to those in marine environments
Pollution with plastic waste is not confined to the oceans but poses a growing threat to lakes as well.

That is the view of researchers who found significant concentrations of the substance in Italy's Lake Garda.

They say the levels are similar to those found in samples taken from marine beach sediments.

They are concerned that these tiny plastic particles are accumulating in freshwater species and are "likely" to get into the food chain.

The research is published in the journal, Current Biology.

"It is, I think, a problem all over Europe and maybe all over the world”  Prof Christian Laforsch University of Bayreuth
The problem of large amounts of plastic polluting the world's oceans has been well documented in recent years. 

As well as bigger pieces that can choke sea creatures when ingested, there is an equally serious issue with very small fragments called micro-plastics.

But research on the problems caused by plastic in lakes has been lacking.

Danger on the shore This new study looked at Lake Garda, a large, sub-alpine body of water. The researchers found significant concentrations of plastic in sediment samples. On the north shore they found around 1,000 larger particles per square metre and 450 micro-plastic particles in the same area.

"We were surprised," lead author Prof Christian Laforsch from the University of Bayreuth told BBC News.
particles in crustacean 
Freshwater crustaceans from Lake Garda were found to have micro-plastic particles in their digestive tracts
"We have similar amounts of plastic particles in the sediment of the lake's ecosystem as we find in marine ecosystems."

Chemicals found in plastics can be poisonous, can damage endocrine systems or in some cases cause cancers.

They can also transport dangerous organic pollutants into clean environments like lakes.

Landfill to lake Previous research on fish and other marine creatures has shown that these species tend to accumulate tiny plastic fragments into their tissue. Prof Laforsch worries that this is happening in Lake Garda and elsewhere.

"What we show is that filter feeders and sediment feeders and organisms that feed on the surface layer of the lake, all swallow these plastic particles mistaking them for food.

"There might be impacts when it affects the hormone system, they could become sterile for example. It could also be, that when fish are feeding on these organisms they accumulate these particles also in their tissue."

The problem is being caused by human use of plastic materials say the researchers.

Apart from water sports, and tourist and fishing boats, the main sources of waste entering Lake Garda were discarded plastic products and debris which may originate from landfill sites.

plastic art 
An art exhibit made up from pieces of plastic found in the marine environment
The scientists are also concerned that the discovery of significant amounts of plastic in lake environments could have implications for human populations as the waters are often used for drinking and for agriculture.

And they argue that, as in the seas, plastic pollution is likely to be widespread in freshwater bodies.

"There is nothing particular about Lake Garda," said Prof Laforsch.

"We are testing in Bavaria and it looks pretty much the same. It is, I think, a problem all over Europe and maybe all over the world."

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Researchers raise concerns about BPA and breast cancer

Doctors sound alarm about prenatal health hazards.

A growing number of health advocates are raising concerns about possible links between the estrogen-like chemical BPA and breast cancer.

Consumer concern about BPA, or bisphenol A, has led manufacturers to remove it from baby bottles and infant formula packaging.

Still, BPA also could pose a risk to children long before they take their first sip of milk, according to a September report from the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. Babies also are exposed in the womb, the report finds.

A developing fetus is especially vulnerable during the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, says co-author Sharima Rasanayagam, director of science at the Breast Cancer Fund. "Everything is being developed" at this stage, she says. "The building blocks are being laid down for future health."

The report cites 60 animal and human studies, which link prenatal BPA exposure to an increased risk of a variety of health problems, from breast cancer and prostate cancer to decreased fertility, early puberty, neurological problems and immune system changes.

In a September paper, too new to be included in the report, Tufts University's Ana Soto found that BPA increased the risk of mammary cancers in rats. In two studies of rhesus monkeys published last year, other researchers found that BPA disrupted egg development, damaged chromosomes and caused changes in the mammary gland that made animals more susceptible to cancer.

Soto says it's possible that prenatal BPA exposure makes fetuses more sensitive to estrogen, a hormone that drives the growth of most breast cancers. In that way, BPA could indirectly increase the risk of breast cancer later in life. She notes that even small changes in prenatal estrogen exposure — such as that produced by the extra placenta in a uterus containing fraternal twins — increases the risk of breast cancer in girls and prostate cancer in boys.

In a separate action, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine also have released a joint report on the broader issue of prenatal exposure to toxins, from BPA to pesticides and other chemicals. That September report notes that in utero exposure to environmental chemicals has been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth, impaired fetal growth and low birth weight, preterm birth, childhood cancers, birth defects, intellectual impairment and thyroid problems.

In 2011, the American Medical Association labeled BPA an "endocrine-disrupting agent" because of evidence suggesting that it disrupts the body's normal hormonal regulation.

In 2009, the Endocrine Society — a group of doctors and researchers specializing in the hormonal system — called hormone-disrupting chemicals such as BPA a "significant concern for public health," possibly causing infertility, cancer and malformations.

"Every pregnant woman in America is exposed to many different chemicals in the environment," says Jeanne Conry, president of the obstetrics-gynecology group.

More than 90% of American have BPA in their bodies, research shows. Ten studies have found BPA in fetal tissue, including umbilical cord blood, as well as in amniotic fluid, the Breast Cancer Fund report notes.

BPA was developed in the 1930s as an estrogen-replacement therapy. Researchers stopped developing BPA as an estrogen, however, because another synthetic hormone, DES, or diethylstilbestrol, was far more potent.

Conry says she's concerned that exposure to BPA could, like DES, change the way that a developing fetus reacts to estrogen for the rest of its life.

Millions of pregnant women took DES from 1941 to 1971 to prevent miscarriage, until studies found that women exposed to DES before birth had a high rate of rare vaginal cancers. Studies later linked DES to breast cancer, as well.

While concern over BPA has led many manufacturers to stop using the chemical in plastic bottles, it remains widely used in other plastics, such as bicycle helmets, eyeglasses and medical equipment and the linings of metal food cans. BPA also is found in the coatings on many cash-register paper receipts.

Since 2011, the Breast Cancer Fund has campaigned to persuade food companies to stop using BPA.

Campbell's Soup last year announced that it will phase out BPA, but has not yet announced when that will happen, or what material it will use instead. Eden Foods has sold its beans in BPA-free cans since 1999. It now sells tomatoes in glass jars, which have lower levels of BPA than traditional cans.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, notes that BPA plays an important role in food safety, because it "helps to extend a product's shelf life and protects food from contamination and spoilage."

"BPA is one of the most tested substances in use today and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly found that the evidence does not show a connection between typical exposure levels and health effects or disease," says Jayne Morgan, chief medical officer at the American Chemistry Council. "Women rely on their physicians for sound medical advice and access to reliable information. Creating confusion and alarm among expectant mothers will distract from the well-established steps doctors recommend to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby."

The Food and Drug Administration's official statement on BPA says that it is "safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods.This assessment is based on review by FDA scientists of hundreds of studies including the latest findings from new studies initiated by the agency."

However, the FDA also has expressed "some concern" about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in children, both before and after birth. The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles in 2012, after most manufacturers already had stopped using it. Earlier this year, the FDA formally banned BPA in infant formula packaging, also after formula manufacturers already had abandoned the chemical.

Manufacturers of metal cans say there's no clear evidence that BPA linings cause harm.

John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, says that recent "studies, coupled with the extensive body of research on BPA that has been thoroughly reviewed by FDA, and multiple international regulatory bodies, continue to reaffirm that the trace amounts of BPA found in metal food and beverage packaging does not represent a health risk to humans at any age or stage of development."

A growing number of studies have linked prenatal BPA exposure to genital changes in babies, as well as behavioral changes in children, Rasanayagam says.

Still, some breast cancer researchers say there's not yet enough research to know if BPA really increases breast cancer risk, and if removing it from consumer products will reduce that risk.

"Yes, we should do the research," says surgeon Susan Love, author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. "But I don't think we should be jumping ahead of the data."

Yet Rasanayagam notes that doctors will never have the sort of scientific proof about environmental chemicals that they have for other products, such as new drugs. First, that's because it's unethical to deliberately expose women and their fetuses to a potentially harmful substance. Second, breast cancer can take 60 or 70 years to develop. So even a very large trial would take decades to produce results.

Soto says that the evidence for regulating the chemical is as good as it's going to get. "It is no longer a problem of science," says Soto, of Tufts University School of Medicine. "It's a problem of policy."
In the face of uncertainty, Conry says doctors and their patients can take sensible steps, such as avoiding plastics made with BPA and not heating plastic in the microwave, which can cause chemicals to leach into food.

Yet BPA is too ubiquitous for women to completely avoid, Conry says. That's why the USA should "shift the burden of proof" from individuals to manufacturers and regulators, who should make sure that pregnant women and others aren't exposed to hazardous chemicals. She notes that there are about 84,000 chemicals in use today, and 700 others are introduced each year. Women and their doctors can't be expected to be experts on all of them, she says.

"We shouldn't be releasing these chemicals into the environment until they have had adequate study," Conry says. "The burden shouldn't be on the consumer each time these issues come up. That's more than the individual can take on."