Sep 27, 2017

California Governor Expected to Sign Chemical Disclosure Bill

(PAINT.ORG) California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to sign a chemical disclosure bill, the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (S.B. 258). If enacted, the measure that was passed by the California Senate and Assembly earlier this month, would require companies to identify on labels and online information the chemical ingredients found in cleaning products; that is, household and institutional products, and automotive care products, but not industrial products or cosmetics.

Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill.

If signed into law, manufacturers would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to post ingredients and other product information on their websites. New labels listing intentionally added chemicals would be required a year later.

The bill, which passed in the Senate on a final 28-12 vote Sept. 13, and in the Assembly the day before, provides for the protection of proprietary information — a key point that was negotiated by industry groups.

No federal regulations require the disclosure of most ingredients in cleaning products. New York, which has a cleaning products ingredient disclosure law on the books, is finalizing guidance for industry.

The measure would require ingredients identified as causing cancer or other health and environmental harm by California, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, European Union, or other regulatory bodies, to be identified on labels and online.

ACA had been engaged and monitoring the bill and its former iteration that died in the last legislative session — AB 708 (Jones-Sawyer) Ingredient Disclosure on Consumer Products, which was initially going to require ingredient disclosure for a) Air care products, b) Automotive products, c) General cleaning products, and d) Polish or floor maintenance cleaners. ACA and its California Paint Council worked to ensure that paints were specifically excluded from the definition of automotive products.

Sep 25, 2017

Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, @JessicaGlenza

​TheGuardian via @JessicaGlenza
....Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts' fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets.

Following this week's revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US.

Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world's oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world's oceans, according to the United Nations.

"Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment," said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are "ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere".

Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from US grocery stores around the world. The Guardian received an exclusive look at the forthcoming study.

Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials' advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day. However, most Americans could be ingesting far more, as health officials believe 90% of Americans eat too much salt.

The health impact of ingesting plastic is not known. Scientists have struggled to research the impact of plastic on the human body, because they cannot find a control group of humans who have not been exposed.

"Everybody is being exposed to some degree at any given time, from gestation through death," researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University wrote in 2013. "Detectable levels of [the plastic] bisphenol A have been found in the urine of 95% of the adult population of the United States."

"There is no clear effect on human health because there are no studies on that subject," said Juan Conesa, a professor who conducted research on sea salt at the University of Alicante in Spain. "But the increase of plastics in general in the environment will also [increase exposure]," Conesa said.

​Read on: 

​TheGuardian via @JessicaGlenza

Sep 22, 2017

New Video on Protecting Oil & Gas Workers

CDPH: A new video is now available to reduce oil and gas worker injuries and fatalities from exposure to toxic gases during tank gauging. The video is a collaboration of the Occupational Health Branch (OHB) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). You can watch a short preview, or the full-length video.

There are thousands of workers employed in oil and gas extraction in California – a workforce that is critical to the energy infrastructure of the nation. Workers at oil tank sites can be exposed to hydrocarbon gases and vapors, oxygen-deficient atmospheres, fires, and explosions when they open tank hatches to manually gauge (measure) fluid levels or collect fluid samples. These preventable exposures can have immediate health effects, including loss of consciousness and death.

OHB's Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (FACE) Program has additional videos to educate workers and employers on how to prevent on-the-job injuries and fatalities. Videos and supporting materials can be found on the FACE Digital Stories Page.

Help resources for fentanyl exposure to emergency responders

The following is a link to a NIOSH webpage on fentanyl exposure to emergency responders, which includes recommendations based on best available evidence,
This is a link to a related NIOSH science blog, 
This is a link to guidance developed by the Interagency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability,

Sep 21, 2017

Kids Say the Darnest Things Hilarious Dangerous Goods Version!

Labelmaster kicked off the recent 2017 Dangerous Goods Symposium with a video that had nearly 300 DG professionals roaring in laughter.

Kids Say the DG'est Things introduces kids to the challenges dangerous goods and hazmat professionals face every day, and their candid responses are adorable, hilarious and – ultimately – a touching tribute to the importance of the DG professional.

We hope you enjoy this video and feel free to publish it on your website, newsletter or blog!

Seminar: Plastics Producers Solutions on Marine Litter

Presented by Stewart Harris - Director, Marine and Environmental Stewardship, Plastics Division at the American Chemistry Council

When: Thursday, October 5, 2017  12-1 PM CDT

Where:  Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - 1 E Hazelwood Dr. Champaign, IL 61820

There is free parking in the circle drive, bike parking, or the Yellow bus stops one block from ISTC. Feel free to bring your lunch.

American Chemical Council Logo 

A 2015 study published in Science estimated that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste enter our oceans annually, with the origin of marine litter closely related to populations concentrated near oceans and the quality of waste management systems. Although research shows the environmental cost of using plastics is nearly four times less than the cost that would result if plastics were replaced with other materials in certain applications, marine litter is still a big impact on the environment and must be reduced. In March 2011, leaders from 47 plastics associations across the globe launched a Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter, a public commitment to help tackle the global problem of plastic litter in the marine environment. These industry leaders identified six areas for initiatives aimed at contributing to sustainable solutions: education, research, public policy, sharing best practices, plastics recycling/recovery, and plastic pellet containment. By December 2015, 260 projects had been planned, were underway, or completed. The projects vary widely, from enhanced recycling to beach clean ups, and from global research to awareness and education campaigns; and include examples of innovative approaches to private sector engagement.

Stewart Harris 

Biography:  Stewart Harris is the Director of Marine and Environmental Stewardship at the American Chemistry Council's (ACC) Plastics Division where he manages ACC's Marine Debris program. He is also Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the plastics industry's Global Action Team, which implements the Declaration of the Global Plastics Associations for Solutions on Marine Litter. As part of the Global Declaration, 69 signatories from 35 countries have implemented over 260 projects addressing marine litter since 2011. Stewart has a Master of Science in Marine‐Estuarine Environmental Science from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Bucknell University.


Can't attend in person? Register to view the seminar online.


Civic Hall: After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, a nonprofit organization that uses satellite imagery to monitor the environment launched a tool for citizens to report pollution caused by flooding. Built on the crowdmapping platform Ushahidi, the Harvey Spill Tracker maps reports of oil, chemical, or hazardous waste spills and other incidents based on satellite images, eyewitness accounts, and National Response Center alerts. Later today the organization will release an updated version that expands the region covered to parts of the country impacted by Hurricane Irma.

The outpouring of volunteer support for Houston after the city was inundated by floodwaters was mostly in the form of emergency response and recovery—putting residents stranded in their homes in touch with rescuers, and informing them about nearby shelters. Most recently, those volunteers have been in the spotlight for repurposing tools built to respond to Harvey for Miami and other parts of Florida affected by Hurricane Irma. But even though the nation's collective attention span has shifted to the southeast, the clean-up of south Texas has only just begun.

Founded by a geologist named John Amos in 2001, SkyTruth is best known as the organization that first challenged BP's estimate of the oil spill after the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010. Using satellite images, the SkyTruth team calculated that the rate of flow from the leak was five to 25 times more than BP was reporting. In addition to the ongoing monitoring of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, the organization also keeps an eye on mountaintop removal in Appalachia. For years, SkyTruth also used satellite images to blow the whistle on illegal fishing, but one month ago Global Fishing Watch was spun out as an independent project.

The Harvey Spill Tracker—or SkyTruth Spill Tracker, as they have renamed it after expanding to other parts of the country—is similar to the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker SkyTruth launched in 2010 and operated until April of this year, when the team decided a dedicated tracker for the Deepwater Horizon spill was no longer necessary. It collects pollution reports in one place, and makes the information available to the public as well as the relevant authorities.

"We believe if people can easily communicate their needs, organizations and governments can more effectively respond," Amos wrote in a blog post announcing the launch. "We have notified the Texas Railroad Commission about the site, and they (like any user) will be able to download the reports in a standard *.csv format, readable by any spreadsheet or database software. With your help, this should prove to be a useful resource for aiding the response and recovery efforts."

Tracey Foster, SkyTruth's communications director, told Civicist that it is important to keep environmental issues visible even when short-term cleanup and recovery seems more urgent.

"It's an aspect that can sometimes get missed," Foster said. "There's more emphasis than ever before on the human impact of natural disasters but public attention is so short, and everyone is thinking about Irma and nobody's thinking about the toxic stew that people are wading through after Harvey."

Photo: Army National Guard by Lt. Zachary West

There has already been some excellent coverage of some of the environmental hazards in Houston after Harvey—including the Associated Press's survey of Superfund sites—but these issues will need to be revisited again and again in the future to ensure proper cleanup. Foster said SkyTruth's role is to keep the spotlight on the long-term effects "as best we can."

The organization has a small cadre of 571 volunteers who are notified when there are opportunities for chipping in on crowdsourced projects, like scanning satellite images of the ocean for the tell-tale signs of an oil slick, but Foster said Amos would like to grow that base into "a SkyTruthing movement where citizen scientists are using our platform to report and share information."

Scott Eustis, a coastal wetland specialist with the Gulf Restoration Network, has also been monitoring the environmental situation in Texas. He went flying last Monday over Beaumont and Port Arthur, TX, and on Saturday over Houston to look for signs of pollution, and planned to report any oil sheens or other signs to the Harvey Spill Tracker.

Eustis told Civicist that he hopes citizen science can help repair some of the environmental injustices that have occurred in Houston and other parts of Texas. He pointed out that the majority of oil refineries in the area are located in or near primarily poor, minority communities, and those communities will bear the brunt of the pollution.

"Citizen science gives us an opportunity to see that and recognize it and work through a lens of environmental justice," Eustis said. "It's not just we're going to have 2,000 reports. It's not just quantity—it's that you have a whole new quality. You're going to have reports from people who have been silenced in the past."


Interns: A secret weapon to curb corporate pollution

GLRPPR: In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act. Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, celebrated during the third week of September each year (September 17-23, 2017),  highlights the efforts of EPA, its state partners, industry, and the public in preventing pollution right from the start. Here at GLRPPR, we'll be publishing a P2 related blog post each day (starting Monday) and will also be spreading the P2 message on Twitter using the hashtag #P2Week.

The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have information about events occurring throughout the country. The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable also has a handy P2 Week Toolkit from 2014 for organizations looking for ways to participate.

Within the region, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management will hold its 20th Annual Pollution Prevention Conference and Trade Show on September 19-20 in Plainfield, IN. The theme is "Celebrating 20 Years of Pollution Prevention in Indiana." The conference will also include presentations of the Governor's Awards for Environmental Excellence. Managing Risk Through Pollution Prevention, a full-day workshop held on the day before the IDEM conference, will lead companies to a better understanding of environmental risk management and how to reduce those risks with pollution prevention techniques. The day will combine lecture with hands on exercises to lead the group towards identification of specific practices they can undertake at their facilities to reduce risk.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has compiled a P2 Week Planner, which includes a sample resolution and press release.

Is your organization doing something for P2 Week? Let us know in the comments.

A cruise ship's emissions are the same as 1 million cars: report

CBC Radio: A luxury cruise vacation may sound like a perfect dream holiday, but a German environmental organization says that in terms of environmental impact, the industry is an absolute nightmare.

​Nabu has just released its annual report on cruise ship pollution. It looked at dozens of vessels travelling in Europe, and decided not to recommend any of them. 

Dietmar Oeliger is one of the authors and head of transport policy at Nabu. He spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Berlin. Here is part of their conversation. 

Dietmar Oeliger

Dietmar Oeliger is head of transport at Nabu, a German environmental association. He co-authored a study that gives a failing grade to the cruise ship industry's environmental management. (Twitter)

Were there really no cruise ships that you looked at that you could recommend?

Unfortunately not. We found out that pollution from the cruise ship industry is still massive, even despite that they claim newer vessels are clean and green. We made measurements at quite a few cruise lines, and it proves that nearly all of them, their attitude to the environment is still poor.

Why are they so bad for the environment?

All of them run on the dirtiest fuel you can imagine. It's heavy fuel oil, it's quite toxic. It's a residual of the petrol industry, and it contains a lot of dirty stuff.

'The cruise companies know what they are doing, and they know about the problems. But still, they order new ships and don't install emission abatement systems.'- Dietmar Oeliger

And on top of that, nearly all of the cruise ships don't have a catalyst or a particulate filter, [like] trucks and cars. That, altogether, sums up to really poor environmental situations.

The report says that a mid-sized cruise ship can use as much as 150 tonnes of fuel each day, which emits as much particulate as one million cars. Is that right?

That's correct. And the reason for this is that their engines run 24/7. Even if they're in the ports, they have to keep running their engines, because it's not only a transport mode, it's a hotel facility. They have a spa on board, restaurants ... and that needs a lot of energy — more or less the same energy a mid-sized city needs.

What does it mean for those who are actually cruising around on the boats themselves?

Unfortunately, we were not allowed as an organization to have measurements on board. Therefore, we helped two major TV stations from Germany and one from France to go undercover on board and take measurements with our help. It showed that the amount of emissions that passengers breathe on board is more than twenty times higher than on a main road with a lot of pollution. 

You write in the report that the cruise ship companies "show contempt for their customers." What do you mean by that?

The cruise companies know what they are doing. And they know about the problems that result from their emissions.

But, still, they order new ships and don't install emission abatement systems on their ships. Most of the newest ships, that cost about a billion dollars, they don't even have an emission abatement system that would cost about a million. I would say this is really irresponsible. 

Historic Arctic Cruise

A group prepares to take a polar plunge in the Bering Sea in front of the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity (which was not included in the NABU report). (Mark Thiessen/The Associated Press)

This is a competitive industry, they're all cutting costs where they can. So is it really the companies themselves that should be making these changes, or should this be legislated?

Read on at:

Can Congress cut food waste? It depends on the success of this bill @codyboteler

(WASTE DIVE) by Cody Boteler: For decades, the federal government has regulated how landfills operate, how air and water are protected and how dangerous sites are cleaned up. However, the federal government has yet to implement a national policy on how to handle food waste.

The lack of federal guidance on food waste has left the U.S. with a patchwork of food waste solutions, with some states, like New Jersey, pursuing ambitious food waste goals — while others seem to all but ignore the issue. Now with the introduction of the Food Recovery Act (H.R. 3444), a vision of what could become the first national food waste policy is taking shape. A similar measure was introduced in 2015, but did not make it out of committee.

Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced the legislation at the end of June, and it has been referred to half a dozen House committees. Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced the same legislation in the Senate a few days later. While some time may pass before either measure comes to a vote — especially since Congress is now in recess — even a trimmed-down version of the introduced measures would have wide-ranging implications for how the U.S. handles food waste. Featured here is a breakdown of some of the impacts of the legislation, if enacted into law. 

Implications for anaerobic digestion (AD)

One of the biggest implications from the bill is the new requirements it would put on anyone seeking a grant or a loan from the federal government to install an anaerobic digester. In order to qualify for the loan or grant, the AD operator would have to submit two items to the Department of Agriculture: a written agreement to adhere to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) food recovery hierarchy and a written plan on what to do with the digestate that's left behind after biogas is produced from AD.

The law would also prohibit the Department of Agriculture from issuing loans to AD operations that use only manure, and require the department to give preference to AD operations that use "primarily" food waste. This requirement could prove to be a boon for energy production, as food scraps and other food waste have a much higher energy potential than manure from any animal.

Implications for schools

Schools will be encouraged — though not required — to purchase "lower-price, nonstandard-size or -shape produce." Put more simply: Schools will be encouraged to purchase ugly food for their nutritional programs.

"Ugly food," which is largely made up of misshapen or slightly damaged produce, is just as healthy and safe as conventional-looking produce. However it often goes to waste on a retail-level because grocery stores don't want to stock it and turn off customers. By introducing ugly food in schools, the education system would not only help combat the food waste issue, but would also expose a younger generation to accepting and eating food that may look unconventional.

Implications for the private sector

Date labels, a longtime bane of food waste advocates, would finally be standardized on the federal level. Under the legislation, if a labeler wants to include a "quality" label, they must use the phrase "BEST if Used By." Any food that could expire, or would otherwise require a safety label, will need to have the phrase "USE By." This mandated distinction will, ideally, lead to fewer consumers tossing out food if they're unsure whether it's safe to consume. An optional "Freeze By" label would also be permissible.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act would be lightly amended to further protect those whom food is being donated to. The law would be amended to specify that "apparently fit" grocery products and "apparently wholesome" food meet "safety and safety-related" standards, not just "quality and labeling" standards as the law currently reads.

It would also become easier to donate food. The passage of the date on a date label would be codified as not being a barrier to legal protection after donating food.

Implications for the federal government

Please read on by Cody Boteler

Sep 19, 2017

Chemical Safety Board Releases Final Report into 2016 Refinery Fire that Seriously Injured Four Workers

Report Issues Key Lessons to Prevent Future Incidents

September 18, 2017, Washington, D.C. -the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a safety bulletin on the November 22, 2016 fire that severely burned four workers at the ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Link to Safety Bulletin:

The fire occurred during maintenance activities when operators inadvertently removed bolts that secured a piece of pressure-containing equipment to a plug valve. When the operators attempted to open the plug valve, the valve came apart and released flammable hydrocarbons, which formed a vapor cloud that quickly ignited.

Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said, "Our investigation found that these accepted practices were conducted without appropriate safety hazard analysis, needlessly injuring these workers. It is important to remember that good safety practices are good maintenance practices and good business practices."

The CSB released a detailed animation showing the events that led to the 2016 fire. To view the full animation Link to animation:

A key safety lesson discussed in the bulletin is the "hierarchy of controls." This is a method of evaluating safeguards to provide effective risk reduction. Within the hierarchy of controls, an engineering control, such as improved valve design, is more effective than a lower level administrative control, such as a sign warning workers that the gearbox support bracket connects to pressure-containing components. The CSB reports concludes that updating all of the older valves to the safer valve design, as was done to approximately 97% of the valves in the unit, would have ultimately prevented the incident.

Investigator Mark Wingard said, "Our investigation also revealed a culture at the refinery that was accepting of operators performing maintenance on malfunctioning plug valve gearboxes without written procedures or adequate training, which in this instance, resulted in a hazardous event."

The CSB is issuing Key Lessons to address the shortcomings revealed by the investigation:

1.Evaluate human factors - humans associated with operational difficulties that exist at a facility in relation to machinery and other equipment, especially when the equipment is part of a process covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. Apply the hierarchy of controls to mitigate the identified hazards.

2.Establish detailed and accurate procedures for workers performing potentially hazardous work, including job tasks such as removing an inoperable gearbox.

3.Provide training to ensure workers can perform all anticipated job tasks safely. This training should include a focus on processes and equipment to improve hazard awareness and help prevent chemical incidents. The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

The agency's board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations examine all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure or inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit their website, 

Excellent new paper on health effects from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Dr. Jennifer Rusiecki and her co-workers have just published a very strong study of nearly 9000 Coast Guard responders to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

They found positive associations between crude oil exposure and various acute physical health symptoms among responders, as well as medium term health effects. Using follow-up surveillance, this cohort will be well positioned to evaluate longer-term effects of oil spill exposures using both self-reported and clinical health data.

Our Bodies Are Becoming Plastic

Dr. Mercola: With plastics now entering the farthest reaches of the globe, what does that mean for the environments where these pollutants are known to accumulate? Mismanaged waste is particularly problematic in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, which together make up the top five countries for plastic pollution.3 In the U.S., one of the top waste-generating countries, littering is a major issue, especially in the form of single-use plastics, like soda bottles, drinking straws and potato chip bags.

According to environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, some plastic products persist for so long, even in salty ocean water, that they'll still be recognizable after 400 years.4 However, an equally alarming problem is the plastics that do get broken down into tiny pieces. Microplastic particles, which are less than 5 millimeters long, are literally clouding the oceans in spots.

Carried along with the ocean's currents, swirling gyres of "plastic smog"5 now cover about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces.6They're being eaten by fish and other marine life — that is well-known. But only recently did researchers take the logical next step to determine that it's not only marine life ingesting plastic — you probably are too.

94 Percent of US Tap Water Contains Plastic Fibers

Research commissioned by media outlet Orb revealed alarming data about plastic pollution in tap water, with 83 percent of samples tested worldwide coming back as contaminated. In the U.S., 94 percent of tap water samples were found to contain plastic — the most out of all the locations tested. According to Orb:7

"Fibers in tap water … are both a discovery and a marker — a visceral sign of how far plastic has penetrated human life and human anatomy. We can't see the long-chain molecules of pollutants like polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, even if they do reside in more than 98 percent of the population. But when fibers are filtered in a laboratory and enlarged by a microscope, the contamination becomes real.

The first studies into the health effects of microscopic plastics on humans are only just now beginning; there's no telling if or when governments might establish a 'safe' threshold for plastic in water and food. Even farther away are studies of human exposure to nanoscale plastic particles, plastic measured in the millionths of a millimeter."

Orb found, for example, 16 fibers in tap water taken at the visitor's center in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., along with fibers in samples taken from Trump Tower in New York. Plastic fibers were also found in water taken from Indonesia, India, Ecuador, Uganda, England and Lebanon.

Where Are the Primary Sources of Microplastic?

Orb noted six primary sources of "invisible plastics,"8 one of which is synthetic microfibers from synthetic clothing like fleece, acrylic and polyester. Microfibers from clothing are released during washing, to the tune of 1 million tons a year. It's unknown what the environmental effects of microfiber pollution may be, but their irregular shape may make them harder for marine life to excrete than other microplastics (like microbeads).

According to the Mermaids (Mitigation of Microplastics Impact Caused by Textile Washing Processes) project, whose goal is to cut microfiber shedding during washing by 70 percent, the apparel industry has been slow to respond in taking steps to stop microfiber pollution.9

A Mermaids report suggested special coatings may help to stop the loss of microfibers during washing, as well as recommended laundry detergents be reformulated to minimize fiber shedding. However, as it stands Orb estimated that more than half of the microfibers released during the wash are missed by water treatment plants and end up in the environment.

Microbeads — those tiny plastic pellets you may have seen in your face wash or hand soap — are another primary source. Microbeads are so small they get flushed right down the bathroom drain and travel through wastewater treatment plants easily, because the filters used are too small to catch them. Research has only begun to reveal the extent of environmental pollution that microbeads have caused.

In a 2012 survey of the Great Lakes, it was found that the area has "some of the highest concentrations of microplastic found in the environment, and microbeads were prevalent."10 One-third of the fish caught in the English Channel also contain microbeads, as do 83 percent of scampi sold in the U.K. 11 Bans on microbeads have taken place in the U.S. and Canada, but not yet in the EU. Orb estimated that more than 8 trillion microbeads ended up in U.S. waterways in 2015. Other sources noted in Orb's report include:12

  • Tire dust, which contains styrene butadiene rubber. According to Orbit, "Cars and trucks emit more than 20 grams of tire dust for every 100 kilometers they drive."13
  • Paints: Microplastics are distributed in paint dust, which comes from house paint, ship paint, road markings and more.
  • Secondary microplastics: Single-use plastics like forks, bags, straws and takeout containers also litter the environment, with 8 million tons washing into waterways each year. Eventually, these items get broken down into microplastics.
  • Airborne plastic fibers: This is a new area of research, but it's thought that your limbs brushing against each other may be enough to release synthetic fibers into the air, which can be inhaled as well as float down to further contaminate the environment. In Paris, airborne microplastics have been found to fall to the ground at rates of up to 10 tons a year.14

Toxic Microplastics May Be Transferred to Farmland

Much of the research on microplastic pollution focuses on marine environments, but the toxic bits are also likely accumulating on land. According to research published in Science of the Total Environment, "Annual plastic release to land is estimated at four to 23 times that released to oceans."15 The use of sewage sludge, or biosolids, as fertilizer may be particularly problematic. It's basically made up of whatever's left over after sewage is treated and processed.

Writing in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers reported that in Europe and North America, about 50 percent of sewage sludge is used for agricultural purposes. Using data from farm areas, population and sewage sludge usage, along with microplastic emission estimates, they found that between 125 and 850 tons of microplastics per million inhabitants may be added to European agricultural soils each year.

When factoring in the range of sludge application rates, and assuming data from certain other countries with similar plastics usage are comparable, the study found a "total yearly input of 63,000 to 430,000 and 44,000 to 300,000 tons of microplastics to European and North American farmlands, respectively …

This would be an alarmingly high input," the researchers noted. "Comprehensively, this exceeds the total accumulated burden of 93,000 to 236,000 tons MPs [microplastics] currently estimated to be present in surface water in the global oceans."16 In a related publication, the researchers called for an urgent investigation to "safeguard food production," considering the finding that large quantities of microplastics are likely being transferred to agricultural land via sewage sludge.17,18

Plastic Particles Smell Like Food to Fish

It's long been known that fish are eating plastic debris, but a disturbing study revealed this isn't occurring by happenstance. Instead, fish may be actively seeking out plastic particles in the ocean to eat, mistaking them for food because of their odor. When microplastics exist in the ocean, they form a biological covering made of algae and other materials that smell like the food the fish would normally eat.19

The study is the first to reveal not only that anchovy use odors to forage, but also that the odor of microplastic in the ocean induces foraging behaviors in schools of the fish. The Center for Biological Diversity noted that fish in the North Pacific are known to ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic every year and, in a study of fish markets in California and Indonesia, one-quarter of the fish were found to have plastics in their guts.20

Plastics and other man-made debris was also found in 33 percent of shellfish sampled.21 The Orb report even reported that plastic particles less than 50 nanometers long have been shown to collect in plankton, potentially blocking their gastrointestinal tract, as well as accumulating in the many creatures that depend on plankton as a food source. It's yet another route of plastics exposures to humans, because if the fish are eating plastic, so, too, are the creatures that end up eating the fish.

What effects this will ultimately have on human health remains unknown, but chemical contamination is a real concern. Once in the water, microplastics easily absorb endocrine-disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals like PCBs. Plastics may concentrate such toxins at levels 100,000 to 1 million times higher than the levels found in seawater.22 It's even possible that plastic particles may end up in places in your body other than your gut. Orb reported:23

"If plastic fibers are in your water, experts say they're surely in your food as well — baby formula, pasta, soups, and sauces, whether from the kitchen or the grocery. Plastic fibers may leaven your pizza crust, and a forthcoming study says it's likely in the craft beer you'll drink to chase the pepperoni down. It gets worse.

Plastic is all but indestructible, meaning plastic waste doesn't biodegrade; rather, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of itself, even down to particles in nanometer scale — one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter. Studies show particles of that size can migrate through the intestinal wall and travel to the lymph nodes and other bodily organs."

Main source: