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Plastic Synthetics, Environment and Health

Plastic Synthetics, Environment and Health

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Published by elstel

The annual worldwide plastic productions amounts to 240.000.000 tons – with conspicious effects: Life in the oceans suffocates from plastic litter while people are facing serious harm by higher and higher amounts of poisonous plastic ingrediants.

The annual worldwide plastic productions amounts to 240.000.000 tons – with conspicious effects: Life in the oceans suffocates from plastic litter while people are facing serious harm by higher and higher amounts of poisonous plastic ingrediants.

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Published by: elstel on Dec 16, 2012
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Plastic, Synthetics;Environment and Health
240 million tons of plastic are produced every year - withconspicuous effect: Life in the oceansimpends to be suffocated by plasticlitter while more and more peoplehave to suffer from cancer, infertility and other “civilization” deseases as aresult of poisonous ingrediants of synthetics.
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In summer 1997 skipper Charles J.Moore decided to return home from a sailingregatta and was returning on his way fromLos Angeles to Hawaii after his crew hadrecovered from the exertions of the regatta. They decided to go home through an areathat was usually avoided by sailors becauseof its doldrums yielding little wind: the horselatitudes. In spite of the wind absenceexasperating from time and time again theycould go in peace. There they made anincredible and unsettling discovery:“As I was looking from board on whatshould be the surface of a pristine,untouched ocean I could only spot plasticlitter as far as my eyes could see. It seemedto be unbelievable but I could not find a freespot anywhere.describes Skipper Charles J.Moore later in his report for the “NaturalHistory Magazine”.However this was yet not all to bewitnessed. The crew was followed by plasticlitter for more than a week: „No matter atwhat time of the day I had gone to have alook from the deck there was plastic litterfloating all over on top of the sea surface:bottles, plastic covers, wrappings,fragments.”Some scientists were not surprised bythe discoveries of skipper Moore. To them itwas just the fulfillment of their own forecastsand apprehension. The NOAA had alreadystated a litter vortex in the northern Pacific in1988.Oceanographers estimate the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the east of Hawaii with its million tons of plastic by thetime as four times the size of Germany(700.000 – 15 Mio km²). At that time in thecenter of the litter vortex every kilo of plancton was outnumbered by six kilos of plastic litter. In the meantime the relationamounts to incredible 1:46 parts of litter perplankton. The reason why the problemexacerbates so rapidly is not only due torising production. The litter circulates about16 years in the plastic vortex before if it isreleased. The worst thing about it is howeverthat plastic is hardly biodegradable. Releasedonce into the environment it can pollute theenvironment for a long time at least until itgets sedimented.But the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isnot the only litter vortex. There is also one inthe Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic which isrevolved by the current of the Kanarens, theNorthern Atlantic and the Gulf Stream. Itssize and composition does resemble theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch strikingly. The reason why such great litter swirlscan appear can be found in the fact that thesea current is considerably low in theseareas. Litter can be brought to these areasby currents from other locations but can notbe brought away from there because there isno sufficient sea current on the surface.Scientists from the University of Manoahave found more similar areas by analysis of sea currents: one area near the Bermudas,one in the west of Central Chile in the Pacific,another one from Argentinia far across theAtlantic almost up to South Africa.Whenever plastic litter arrives in areasclose to the continent it covers whole shores.Werner Boote shows in his film Plastic Worldhow volunteers in Japan clean a beachcovered entirely with plastic every year justso that it gets covered by plastic litter littletime afterwards. Plastic arrives on everybeach of the worlds oceans. Even the sandon our beaches contains plastic up to acertain degree.Even waters like the Mediterranean Seaor the Northern Sea have a litter problemeven though litter does not collect in bigvortexes there. The litter washed ashore and caught inhuge vortexes is just the top of an iceberg. The larger part, more than 70 percent sinksdown and covers the seafloor like asuffocating, air tight shroud.Before the litter sinks down it alreadycauses full devastation. Seals, turtles andbirds tangle up in plastic strings and ringswithout any chance to rescue. Many animalslike whales, dolphins and sea birds eat plasticparts and die of hunger by a stomach filledwith plastic if they do not die of a stomach
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closing first. The protected and endangeredsea turtle Caretta Caretta confoundstranslucent plastic bags with its favorite food jellyfish. According to the Union of Conservation of Nature and NaturalResources (IUCN) one Million of sea birds andabout 100.000 sea mammals per yearbecome victims of plastic litter. These numbers are dramatic but notthe only danger to marine ecosystems.Another problem are fishing nets which havegone off deck deliberately or unintentionally.By the time more and more sea animals getcaught up in these nets. Once the fishingnets get too heavy they sink down; just torise up again at a later time when all the seaanimals have decomposed - and thedestruction begins again.In conjunction with other anthropogenicinfluences like massive overfishing, oil spillsand the discharge of noxious substances awhole ecosystem could collapse. This wouldmean that the oceans could no more serveas a source of food for humankind.More often inferior animals like jellyfishstart to dominate so that fishing nets are fullof jellyfish but without a singleton fish. This isnot only owed to the exhaustion of fishinggrounds but also to the increasing spill of fertilizers out of agricultural use. Theacidification of our oceans by the massiveincrease of CO2 air content will be bad formarine organisms based on bones andlimestone skeletons like corals. A symptom of human made global warming induced bysharply rising CO2 levels (greenhouse effect).Even marine food chains such as betweenplankton and plankton eating animals likefish are at risk because some animals areaccustomed to the blooming period of theirfood source which changes by globalwarming.In addition to restrictive internationalfishing quotas the resolution of the plasticlitter problem will be essential in order torescue our oceans from passing out in thefuture.Simple ex-post resolution attempts likecollecting out the plastic garbage are futiledue to the sheer amounts. Other attemptslike stopping the litter at river mouths areimpossible due to shipping routes.Increased recycling of synthetics couldbe part of a solution.If shipping companies got paid fordisposing of their plastic litter instead of having to pay in order to get rid of it theywould not simply throw it away over-deckshreddered together with organic waste.International shipping authorities would haveto allocate money for this purpose whichcould be taken in before by litter fees. Amere prohibition may be useless because itcan not be checked sufficiently withoutcontrolling that the litter is returned in theharbour.Unfortunately, in contrast to efforts toincrease the recycling level for beveragepackings the recycling portion has fallen inAustria from 60% (1997) to 40% (2007), forbotteled water even from 96% (1994) to24,3% (2007).Comprehensive plastic recycling couldreduce the rapidly growing problems to someextent; however, one cannot think of it as asolution to the plastic litter problem. 80% of all spilt plastic litter whether thrown awaydeliberately or unwittingly left or blown bywind out of hand makes its way over therivers into the ocean. The plastic recycling proportion hasstrikingly fallen in the last years instead of achieving a rise. The only viable way to cope with theplastic litter problem would be a stringentregulation by the means of law that allcommodities must be made of 100%degradable plastic.Biodegradable plastics do already existfor a long time. The industry just does nothave any interest in deploying thesesynthetics - in the lack of appropriateregulations. Biodegradable does not meanthat plastic synthetics need to be producedof biological base materials. Biodegradablesynthetics could also be cheaply producedout of crude oil.Non biodegradable materials wouldneed to be reserved for special technicalpurposes ; everywhere where specialmaterial properties are required or a productas a whole can not be createdbiodegradabely.If the majority of synthetics would needto be biodegradable then it would solveproblems like the abandoned fishing nets.In order to rescue the worlds oceansan international treaty would be necessary.Nonetheless the EU or other countries couldtry to go a step ahead in abolishing non-degradable materials in certain areas whichwould also require blocking imports on non-conformant goods. If a joint action of nations
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going ahead in this area could make majorexporters to change their products then aworldwide enforcement is just a few stepsahead.1.2. Environmental Effects of DegradationSun, wind and water reduce biggerplastic parts to smaller pieces until only smallsuspended articles are left over. The mainpart of plastic litter consists of these particlescirculating not far under the surface. Theybecome ingested by maritime organismstogether with plankton.When ingested by animals thesemicroparticles turn out to be traps forpersistent toxins. As the plastic parts getsmaller and smaller their surface size shrinksto the square while their volume shrinks tothe third potency, effectively the surfacebecomes much bigger in relation because thevolume shrinks much faster. We do alsoremember that many plastics have the wellknown property to take up smells.Consequently the concentration of toxinsbeing easily assimilated through the biggersurface can outnumber the concentration inthe ambient sea water for Millions of times. That way in the small plastic particlesconcentrate persistent toxins such as DDT,which had been abolished in the 40ies, orPCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) which havebeen used in color, sealing and plastic (alsoin electrical components) as softeners untilthe 80ies. Both substances are carcinogenicand endocrine disruptors deranging thehuman hormone system.However, not only persistent toxinswhich have already been forbidden for longbut also poisonous substances still being inuse get trapped in the small suspendedplastic particles. Just to mention bisphenol Awhich is an endocrine disruptor and cantrigger genetic mutations or the carcinogenicPolystyrol widely used. Polystyrene orstyrofoam exhibits its toxic potential whenbeing chopped into small pieces like this.First scientific studies have shown thefollowing: As soon as maritime organisms eatthis toxic litter the toxins will be released intheir stomach during digestion so that thepoison can be ingested into the organism. Asmaritime organisms accumulate thesepoisons they concentrate in the food chain; -and at the end of the food chain stands thehuman being. 2. Effects on Human Health The human being is not only exposed totoxins due to the consumption of maritimeorganisms. The usage of poisonous basematerials for commodity production is notuncommon. We can absorb these toxicmaterials through the air we breath (smell of new commodities), by abrasion or simply bytouching certain products (gluey plasticgrips).In this context hormonally effectivesubstances are of interest, so calledendocrine disruptors because they cancause significant harm in very small doses.Hormones have control tasks in our bodythus a very small dose can provoke anintense reaction causing significant damageto our health.Even worse, poisonous materials areused for packing food. Almost all we buy inthe supermarket is shrink- or bloat-wrappedinto plastic. It is striking that there are exactregulations for food ingredients but onlyinsufficient regulations for the packing of food.It is not hard to verify that manysubstances like phthalates, bisphenol A orAcetaldehydes migrate from the wrappinginto the food. Would these substances beadded directly as ingredients they wouldhave to be declared on the packing. But theconsumer notices nothing this way.Phthalates are plasticizers which areadded to synthetics in order to make themmore soft. They are, however, not ligatedwith the plastic polymers but rather freelyfloating additives which get dispensed intothe environment throughout the wholelifetime of the plastics.Especially Soft-PVC contains high dosesof up to 70% of health-damaging plasticizers.If at some time all of the softener hasevaporated into the environment the lifetimeof the plastics is exhausted and it will fall intopieces. 90% of phthalate production goesinto Soft-PVC; only 10% into other types of plastics. That way phthalates can be found indifferent products like floor coatings, pipes,carpets, artificial leather, nail lacquer, colors,adhesives, cosmetics and even foodpackings.Bisphenol A (BPA) is the worlds mostused industry chemical. Its application risesin the European Union for about 8% per year.
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