Last week the 24th annual SETAC (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry) Europe meeting took place in Basel, Switzerland. The meeting had more than 2000 attendees during 4 days (11-15th of May) at Basel Congress Center. As a meeting about toxicology, subjects could get very broad and in fact they did, but on one particular day, a whole session was dedicated to macro and microplastic pollution (Themed “Macro, micro and nanoplastic pollution in the aquatic and terrestrial environments: Sources, fate, exposure and ecological and toxicological impacts”). Subjects on the talks varied from microplastics presence in sediments to seafood till the effects of the leaching of chemical compounds from plastics to the organisms ingesting them and the environment.
In particular, the most interesting and innovative talks came from E. Besseling, from Wageningen University, who studied effects of nanoplastics on growth and reproduction of algae and zooplankton, and M. Rani and M. Jang, from Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, who studied the release of Hexabromocyclododecane also known as HBCDs (a flame retardant used as a plastic additive) on expanded polystyrene buoys (and other products such as electronics and house items) in the water and mussels attached to them.
I’ll tell you why I thought they were innovative. Firstly because apparently, there is another size class of debris we need to also worry about: nano particles seems to be the next abundant thing in the environment due to the break up of macroplastics particles in microplastics and, microplastics in nanoplastics and they could be also industrially produced. So, we definitely need more on that. Secondly, because a lot has been done on reporting the presence of plastic particles everywhere, but little do we know on the actual effects these particles are causing on the environment and its inhabitants, aside from the obvious ones as entanglement in macro debris or taking up stomach space, perforation of digestive tract when ingested, etc. I mean, but when it is in there, when they are inside the digestive tract of an animal, what do they cause and how does that affect the food chain for instance? Besseling has done some previous work on lugworms, proving they were less fit after ingesting microplastics. This time, effects on the growth of S. obliquus, a green algae, were shown, as well as reproductive effects on D. magna, a zooplankton species.
As for Rani and Jang, the interest comes from knowing that expanded polystyrene buoys are heavily used everywhere, including in acquaculture farms. HBCD has been added to the list of global elimination compounds under the Stockholm Convention in May 2013., due to its adverse biochemical effects (increased liver, thyroid and pituitary weights in rats tested). Their studies prove that there is a larger concentration of HBCD in mussels attached to the buoys and in the surroundings, as well as larger concentrations in sediments and surrounding seawater, meaning EPS buoys are a source of HBCDs in the environment. The question everyone wanted to ask is why is a flame retardant necessarily added to something that is going to be in the water, such as a buoy?
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The presentation of M. Rani on HBCD release through EPS buoys – Image by Heidi Acampora
Published by Heidi Acampora