Microplastic debris: The next threat

The scientific community has, once again, stated its concern due to the increasing environmental impact produced by plastic debris found in oceans 

Microplastic debris

The most common types of these elements are macro-plastics, meso-plastics, nano-plastics or microbeads. Microplastics, measuring less than 5 millimeters, are considered the most dangerous as they cannot be seen by the naked eye and could easily be ingested by marine wildlife, affecting the natural ecosystem and human society itself.

Chemical toxins tend to be absorbed by these micro-particles, increasing the exposure. Studies and awareness campaigns have been implemented in marine biology and other sciences to minimize the environmental impact as this issue can be considered the next big threat to seas.

There are two types of microplastics: the first one, is a product of the microbeads and microcapsules formed by human industry. The second type is a result of the breakdown and weathering of bigger pieces of plastic (macroplastics). This fragmentation is caused by exposure to UV irradiation coming from the sun once they are discarded.

A recent study done by the United Nations revealed that the primary microplastics sources are in personal healthcare products, cosmetics, textiles and clothing, dust from tires, and plastic manufacturers and fabricators. Macroplastics, on the other hand, are produced by construction residues, household goods, industrial food packaging, coastal tourism, and fishing activities.

Although many of these pollutants are blocked by water treatment plants, this depends on the technological advances available, and, unfortunately, the local policies to mitigate the problem are deficient in most countries. Plastic usage has increased from 5 million tons in the 1950’s to 250 million tons in 2006, and since there are many multiple sources, it’s a social and political problem with no easy solution in sight.

The actual environmental impact of this type of contamination is affecting the entire human and animal ecosystem. Microplastics can be ingested by marine wildlife causing false satiation, starvation, or death. In addition to these facts, they can move up through the food chain and be transferred to human beings.

Almost 663 animal species are threatened by this phenomenon. Personal care products contain a staggering amount of 1147 microplastic particles; 8 out of 10 items found on American beaches are the product of food and drinking packaging; a single plastic particle can absorb up to 1’000,000 times more toxic chemicals than the water around it. An estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world’s oceans.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Felipe Guerrero C.

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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