The scattering of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and atmosphere is now resulting in the “plastification” of the planet, with the debris “spiraling around the globe” in the wind.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that smaller microplastics can remain in the atmosphere for nearly a week, which is long enough for them to be carried across an ocean or a continent. A lot of the airborne particles are from decades-old, broken-down items such as plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.
But the biggest sources are roadways, where the tires of large trucks and other vehicles degrade into tiny bits as they rumble along and are picked up by the wind.
Waste Personal Protective Equipment from Covid-19 is Killing Wildlife
Waste from lifesaving personal protective equipment is killing birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe, a study has found. Animals are fatally ingesting or becoming entangled in discarded latex gloves and disposable face masks, while others have started building their homes using the same material, researchers said.
Scientists found a fish trapped in medical latex gloves in a canal cleanup in the Dutch city of Leiden in August, which prompted researchers to explore whether there was a larger problem.
The biologists found hundreds of discarded face masks in Leiden’s historical canals over the course of a few months and soon realized a worrying picture was emerging. Those affected are not confined to small fish and birds, rather the entire animal kingdom globally will suffer from COVID-19 litter.
Floods and Pests
Southeastern Australia’s worst floods in 50 years have forced thousands from their homes and driven a frightening number of snakes and spiders into populated areas. Other wildlife are also scrambling for higher ground, including skinks, ants and crickets.
The hordes of spiders invading people’s homes have proven to be the most traumatic for many residents. But they are advised not reach for insecticides because the arachnids will eventually leave when the waters recede.
Researchers say they have found that the vast amounts of microplastics released into the environment from wastewater treatment plants each day may be “hubs” for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens. A team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology says the plastic pollution forms a slimy layer of film on the surface of wastewater, which collects dangerous microorganisms and allows them to commingle and mix with antibiotic waste. The scientists say this poses a threat to marine life and human health if the plastic-borne pathogens bypass the treatment process, which is typically not designed to remove the plastics.
More than 50 new environmental chemicals detected in people
Researchers have detected more than 50 new environmental chemicals lurking in people’s bodies, the vast majority of which are little known or unknown compounds. The findings are concerning given that very little is known about these chemicals and their potential health effects.
Of these newly detected chemicals, two were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These chemicals, used in consumer products such as nonstick cookware and pizza boxes, stay in the human body for a long time and can accumulate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ten of the newly detected substances were plasticizers, or chemicals used in the production of plastics. For example, one of the detected plasticizers, a group of chemicals called phthalates, are often found in fast-food packaging and have been associated with adverse health effects. Two of the newly detected chemicals are used in cosmetics; one in pesticides. But most — 37 — of these newly detected chemicals are ones that researchers have little to no information on.
Intense, widespread bushfires in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere in 2020. Hirsch and Koren found that this smoke caused record-breaking levels of aerosols over the Southern Hemisphere, as much as that from a moderate volcanic eruption. The severity was caused by a combination of the vigour of the fires and their location at a latitude with a shallow tropopause and within the midlatitude cyclones belt. This aerosol increase caused considerable cooling over oceanic cloud-free areas.
Scientists say they have found a way to cleanly, efficiently and cheaply break down polystyrene, a type of plastic used in packaging material, food containers, cutlery and other items.
A team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Clemson University says it has found a way to grind up the polystyrene with metal ball bearings until a desired chemical reaction occurs. This type of “mechanochemistry” deconstructs the plastic through chemical events in which the metal bearings and oxygen in the air act as co-catalysts. The resulting debris can be used to create other products. “We think this proof of concept is an exciting possibility for developing new recycling technologies for all kinds of plastics,” said senior scientist Viktor Balema.
Orange veil of dust chokes Beijing in record-breaking sandstorm
Beijing has been enveloped in one of its most severe sandstorms in over a decade, which has combined with air pollution to create a toxic, gritty haze that turned skies orange and made the skyline disappear.
The sandstorm hit the Chinese capital on Monday morning (March 15) after gale-force winds from Mongolia blew dust from the Gobi desert over the border. In Mongolia, 341 people are missing after the same sandstorm blew across the country.
Oil Spill in the Mediterranean
A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel’s biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, with authorities closing the country’s beaches and beginning a massive cleanup effort.
Chunks of sticky, black tar began washing up late last week. On Sunday, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry warned people to avoid going to beaches from the country’s northern border with Lebanon all the way to the south near the Gaza Strip. Tar exposure can make people sick and irritate the skin.
The tar pollution has already affected wildlife. Volunteers rushed to rescue sea birds, turtles and fish that were covered in oily residue or had ingested oil. One species that has ecologists particularly worried is a reef-building snail called Dendropoma petraeum. As the Mediterranean Sea heats up due to global warming, the snail’s population on the Israeli coast has plummeted. That makes the species particularly vulnerable to other ecological disasters.
The racket of human activity beneath the ocean surface is drowning out the natural noises made by marine creatures, which researchers say is as harmful as overfishing, pollution and climate change.
A University of Exeter team made the conclusion after reviewing more than 500 studies on marine noise. The review says while military sonar and oil exploration blasts are obvious sources of distress and deafness in the ocean, noise from shipping has increased by 32 times in the past 50 years. The study says the din of offshore wind farms, bottom trawling and other sources are drowning out the calls many species use to communicate, spawn and migrate.
Carpets of Plastic Waste
Flooding has sent carpets of waste plastic down river into Hungary over the past few days, officials say, despite earlier pleas to its upstream neighbours Ukraine and Romania for an end to the pollution.
As of Monday, floating garbage disposal units have removed 500 cubic metres of waste from the Tisza and Szamos rivers. While much of the debris flowing downstream is organic when water levels rise, household waste, including slippers and even televisions, appears alongside the plastic bottles.
Ocean Plastic Pollution
The international nonprofit advocacy organization, Oceana, released a new report this month that lists plastic pollution as the #1 killer of marine wildlife. The team of researchers surveyed government agencies, organizations, and institutes to collect data on how plastic pollution is impacting marine life.
The researchers say the biggest problem they found was animals consuming plastic. This can happen due to an animal mistaking plastic for food or inadvertently swallowing plastic materials while swimming. Becoming entangled in plastic was also listed as a frequent problem. This can lead to the animal choking, suffering physical trauma, or not being able to feed properly.
Scientists report they have found the uppermost-recorded microplastic pollution on the planet near the summit of Mount Everest. An international team organized by England’s University of Plymouth says it collected “substantial quantities” of polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibers at an elevation of 27,690 feet. The team says that while some could be from material carried up Everest by climbers, much of it could have been blown there by the powerful winds that often impact the mountain’s higher slopes. Plastic pollution has been found in recent years from the world’s highest mountain to its deepest ocean trench.
Researchers have found that most whales, turtles and fish may be swimming the world’s oceans with plastic in their bodies.
Writing in the journal Global Change Biology, Marga Rivas at Spain’s University of Almería and her team analyzed data from 112 published studies from the past decade. They conclude that 66% of all sea turtles had macroplastics and microplastics in their systems, while 55% were contaminated with a class called microfibers.
The highest rates of plastic contamination were in the Mediterranean and northeastern Indian Ocean.
Dirty Polluters Live On
Many of the world’s oldest and most-polluting vehicles are not winding up in scrapyards but are instead being “dumped” on the roadways of poor countries where they continue to spew high carbon emissions.
A report by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says that from 2015 to 2018, about 14 million outdated cars were exported from Europe, Japan and the U.S., with most winding up in Africa, Latin America and Asia. One of the UNEP report authors says about 80% of those vehicles aren’t roadworthy and don’t meet European emission standards.
The massive deaths of sea creatures along the eastern coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula are being blamed by officials on a natural bloom of toxic algae and not on man-made pollution.
Images of dead seals, octopuses and other marine life started appearing on social media in early October, accompanied by reports of local residents complaining of being sickened as well. Russia’s Investigative Committee said the deaths were entirely due to natural causes. But initial tests found levels of oil products and phenol, used to make plastics, in the water.
Pollution – Europe
Air pollution remains Europe’s top environmental threat to health, with more than 400,000 premature deaths due to air pollution every year in the EU, according to a European Environment Agency report.