Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UCSB researcher shows microplastic transfers chemicals, impacting health

Study demonstrates plastic ingestion delivers pollutants and additives into animal tissue

With global production of plastic exceeding 280 metric tons every year, a fair amount of the stuff is bound to make its way to the natural environment. However, until now researchers haven't known whether ingested plastic transfers chemical additives or pollutants to wildlife.

A lugworm illustration from the National Encyclopedia published in London in 1881.

Credit: UCSB

A new study conducted by UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) shows that toxic concentrations of pollutants and additives enter the tissue of animals that have eaten microplastic. The findings are published today in Current Biology.

Lead author Mark Anthony Browne, a postdoctoral fellow at NCEAS, had two objectives when the study commenced: to look at whether chemicals from microplastic move into the tissues of organisms; and to determine any impacts on the health and the functions that sustain biodiversity. Microplastics are micrometer-size pieces that have eroded from larger plastic fragments, from fibers from washing clothing or from granules of plastic added to cleaning products. Microplastics are then consumed by a variety of animals, beginning with the bottom of the food chain. These tiny bits of plastic act like magnets, attracting pollutants out of the environment to attach to the plastic.

"The work is important because current policy in the United States and abroad considers microplastic as non-hazardous," Browne said. "Yet our work shows that large accumulations of microplastic have the potential to impact the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems."

Browne ran laboratory experiments with colleagues in the United Kingdom in which they exposed lugworms (Arenicola marina) to sand with 5 percent microplastic (polyvinylchloride) that also contained common chemical pollutants (nonylphenol, phenanthrene) and additives (triclosan, PBDE-47). Results showed that pollutants and additives from ingested microplastic were present in the worms' tissues at concentrations that compromise key functions that normally sustain health and biodiversity.

"In our study, additives, such as triclosan (an antimicrobial), that are incorporated into plastics during manufacture caused mortality and diminished the ability of the lugworms to engineer sediments," Browne said. "Pollutants on microplastics also increased the vulnerability of lugworms to pathogens while the plastic itself caused oxidative stress."

As test subjects, lugworms were not chosen at random. They are found in the United States and Europe, where they comprise up to 32 percent of the mass of organisms living on some shores, and are consumed by birds and fish and used as bait by fishermen. When the worms feed, they strip the sediment of silt and organic matter, giving rise to a unique and diverse number of species. Consequently, governments use this species to test the safety of chemicals that are discharged in marine habitats.

"They also suffer from mass mortalities during the summer," Browne said of the worms. "In the areas where a lot of the mortalities occurred, there has been extensive urban development so some mass mortalities could be potentially tied to plastic. On a hot summer's day when the tide is out, these organisms cook slightly because their hydrogen peroxide levels increase. And we found that the plastic itself reduces the capacity of antioxidants to mop up the hydrogen peroxide."

Although sand transferred larger concentrations of pollutants — up to 250 percent — into the worm's tissues, pollutants and additives from microplastic accumulated in the gut at concentrations between 326 percent and 3,770 percent greater than those in experimental sediments.

The pollutant nonylphenol from microplastic or sand suppressed immune function by more than 60 percent. Triclosan from microplastic diminished the ability of worms to engineer sediments and caused mortality, each by more than 55 percent. Triclosan, an antibacterial additive, has been found in animal studies to alter hormone regulation. Microplastic also increased the worms' susceptibility to oxidative stress by more than 30 percent.

These chemicals are known as priority pollutants, chemicals that governments around the world have agreed are the most persistently bioaccumulative and toxic. Previous work conducted by Browne and his colleagues showed that about 78 percent of the chemicals recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are associated with microplastic pollution.

"We've known for a long time now that these types of chemicals transfer into humans from packaged goods," Browne said. "But for more than 40 years the bit that the scientists and policymakers didn't have was whether or not these particles of plastic can actually transfer chemicals into wildlife and damage the health of the organism and its ability to sustain biodiversity. That's what we really nailed with the study."

Julie Cohen | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>