Alert on toxic substances disseminated by plastics

Plastic pollution is more than the spectacular image of the millions of tonnes of waste that end up in the ocean each year. Two studies published Tuesday, December 14 show that plastic is also a formidable Trojan horse that threatens the health of humans and ecosystems through the multitude of toxic chemicals that it transports and diffuses in the environment at each stage of its cycle. life. Their findings also call into question the main solution acclaimed around the world: recycling.

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At the initiative of this unprecedented expertise, the International Network for the Elimination of Pollutants (IPEN), which brings together more than 600 NGOs in around 100 countries. IPEN was interested in industrial plastic granules, these small spheres less than 5 millimeters in diameter used as raw material for the production of almost all plastic objects. The first study looked at what surfers poetically call “siren tears” accidentally scattered on beaches before they’ve even melted. The second concerns the same microbeads but recycled, purchased from recycling plants.

In both cases, the analysis of the chemical composition of the granules reveals the presence of dangerous substances with potentially carcinogenic or endocrine disrupting effects. In particular, the many additives (half of the 10,000 molecules used in the manufacture of plastics) added by manufacturers to make their products more resistant, whether to light or fire.

Persistent organic pollutants

To get the most complete picture, IPEN has collected pellets in 35 countries over the past three years. Mermaid tears were collected from 22 beaches in Africa, America, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Caribbean. First observation, no area of ​​the world is spared by this pollution. In Europe, according to calculations by the European Commission, around 265,000 granules accidentally end up in the ocean every second, “lost” by industry during production, transport, storage or recycling. Globally, it is estimated that more than 250,000 tonnes of granules are released into aquatic environments each year.

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Samples collected from the beaches by IPEN were analyzed at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. The latter hosts the International Pellet Watch, a global ocean pollution monitoring program based on the identification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in pellets, known as « pellets » in English. Ten ultraviolet stabilizers by the barbaric name of benzotriazole UV (BUV) were researched. They are added to make the plastic more resistant to light. Very persistent, they accumulate in organisms and are suspected of being endocrine disruptors. One of them, UV-328, is at the top of the list for inclusion in the blacklist of substances banned by the Stockholm Convention on POPs. Thirteen polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were also researched. Ultratoxic, classified as probable carcinogens for humans, PCBs have been banned by the Stockholm Convention for twenty years but are still present in the environment due to the massive use that has been made of them for years.

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Alert on toxic substances disseminated by plastics