The Problem with Plastic
Micro Plastics are ruining our water
Plastics are causing a problem in the seas
Plastic becomes toxic in water and does not biodegrade. Instead it photo-degrades, which means it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces which can enter our soil and waterways. These micro-plastics act as magnets for even more debris, drawing billions of microscopic plastic fragments drifting in the ocean. Rolf Halden, associate Professor at the School for Sustainable Energy at ArizonaStateUniversity, and assistant director of Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, has been conducting a study of the hazards of plastics to humans and to the ecosystem.
Halden explains that these micro particles have the ability to absorb or de-absorb chemicals from the water and therefore can concentrate pollutants like DDT. (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants). POPs are toxic chemicals that have an adverse affect on our health and on the environment. Since they can be carried by wind and water, POPs can have far reaching global effects. They survive for elongated periods in the environment and can pass from one species to another through bioaccumulation.
POPs were heavily used during the post-war industrial boom of the late 1940s when thousands of synthetic chemicals were developed for commercial use. Many of these chemicals were very useful in pest control, agriculture, manufacturing, disease control and industrial processing. These same chemicals, however, had unforeseen effects.
DDT is probably the most well known and certainly the most controversial pesticides ever produced. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that four million pounds of this cheap but effective chemical have been created and used worldwide since in the last 70 years. In the US, DDT was heavily used for agricultural crops, and was also used to protect soldiers from insect born diseases such as typhus and malaria. The extensive use of DDT led to widespread environmental contamination and a global buildup of DDT in people and wildlife. This serious problem was brought to the public’s attention by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring.
Micro-plastics expel harmful chemicals like BPA (Bisphenol A). Two classes of plastic related chemicals which are of serious concern to human health are Bisphenol-A (BPA) and certain additives known as phthalates, which are utilized in the synthesis of plastics. Halden explains that plastics are polymers, which are long chains of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and sometimes silicon which are chemically linked together or polymerized.
BPA is one of the basic building blocks of polycarbonate plastics, which are used for bottled water and other items. Its bonds can break down over time, when plastics are repeatedly washed or exposed to heat, unlocking the building blocks of the chemical, which are toxic. Ever since the 1940s, BPA has been recognized as an endocrine disrupting chemical which interferes with normal hormonal function.Adding to the health risks of BPA is the fact that other ingredients, such as plasticizers, are commonly added to most plastics. Many of these potentially toxic components can leak out over time. “We’re doomed to live with yesterday’s plastic pollution,” Halden says. “And we are exacerbating the situation with each day of unchanged behavior
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