For just a few decades, humans have dumped tons upon tons of garbage into the ocean. One of the most devastating elements of this pollution is that plastics take thousands of years to decompose. As a result, fish and wildlife are being poisoned. Consequently, toxins from plastics have entered the food chain, threatening human health. In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton six times. This is great evidence that makes the problem of polluted oceans undeniable. It's annoying that no more cleaning efforts are being made.
This case study is part of a collection of pages developed by students in the 2012 Introductory Course to Geology and Human Health at the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University. Learn more about this project.
The three plastic islands
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Vortex or Pacific Garbage Gyre, is located in the central North Pacific Ocean and is larger than the state of Texas. There are also garbage patches in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Patches are defined as containing a greater amount of plastic compared to the surrounding oceans. To date, five patches in total have been discovered.
Plastics are transported and converged in the ocean where the currents meet. This means that huge islands of plastic accumulate as a result. Scientists from SES (Sea Education Society) studied plastics in the Atlantic and calculated that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer.
Sources of plastic toxins entering the ocean food chain
As for the plastic that enters the ocean, approximately 20% of the garbage comes from ships and platforms that are offshore. The rest of the sources of garbage thrown into the sea, collected by the tides on the beach, or the intentional dumping of garbage. The worst part is that these plastics do not biodegrade, so they break into small pieces that are consumed by fish and marine mammals. The plastic is killing more than 100,000 sea turtles and birds a year through ingestion and entanglement.
The chemicals in plastics are released into the water and into the atmosphere. Fish are easily contaminated by chemicals in the water. This is a direct link to how plastic chemicals enter the food chain. See Earth Times for more information on this.
Plastics reach humans impacting health
Different plastics are scattered throughout the ocean. As the Styrofoam breaks into smaller pieces, the components sink into the ocean, so the pollutant spreads throughout the sea column.
In fact, the toxins in plastic not only affect the ocean but act like sponges, they also absorb other toxins from external sources before entering the ocean. Since these chemicals are ingested by animals in the ocean, this is not good for humans. We as humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals.
For more on this topic on toxins in the ocean, check out this National Geographic article. National Geographic
There are different ways that plastic is dangerous to humans. The direct toxicity of plastics comes from lead, cadmium, and mercury. These toxins have also been found in many fish in the ocean, which is very dangerous for humans. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) contained in some plastics is a toxic carcinogen. Other toxins in plastics are directly linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood development problems. To learn more about the effects of plastics on humans, visit the Center for Ecology
Other types of toxic plastics are BPA or Bisphenol-A, along with phthalates (mentioned above). Both are of great concern to human health. BPA is used in many things, including plastic bottles and food packaging materials. Over time, the polymer chains of BPA break down and can enter the human body in many ways, from drinking contaminated water to eating a fish that is exposed to degraded toxins. Specifically, BPA is a chemical known to interfere with human hormonal function.
Rolf Halden, an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and Arizona State University, has studied the adverse effects of plastics on humans and has thus far concluded that it is nearly impossible to determine the exact profile of plastics. effects of plastics on human health. This is due to the fact that the problem of plastic pollution in humans is spreading globally; There are almost no unexposed subjects. That said, it is clear that chemicals are not healthy for humans. To learn more about Halden's studies on plastics at Arizona State University, see Impacts of plastics on human health and ecosystems.
As Rolf Halden states, the only way to decrease this unsustainable plastic production would be a global change in the use of oil, due to environmental concerns. About 8% of the world's oil use comes from the manufacture of plastics.
When it comes to protecting yourself from contamination, it is probably best not to have a diet that consists mainly of fish, as most of it is probably contaminated. However, one of the most effective things we can all do as members of this fragile ecosystem is to be responsible for our trash. When we have the opportunity, we should try to avoid buying products packaged in plastic. We must always recycle plastic when we use it. At the store, ask for a paper bag instead of plastic, or bring your own. Use a reusable water bottle, and of course, don't litter.
The role that humans play
Quoted by the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, "Marine litter, the litter in our oceans, is a symptom of our throwaway society and our approach to how we use our natural resources."
Our tendency as humans to be irresponsible about cleaning up after ourselves is about to get us in trouble. We risk losing many species in the ocean and negatively affect ourselves. The average person produces half a pound of plastic waste each day. No wonder the oceans are filling with waste!
I think part of the problem is that we don't recognize that it starts with the individual. Obviously, there are lifestyle changes we can make to solve this problem. We just have to be willing to accept this problem and look beyond our denial. The government also needs to make regulations on plastics if something is to change. Surprisingly, there is little to no information on government websites about pollution in the oceans. I think they are afraid to tackle the problem; It is an expensive solution. However, some treaties have been formed to minimize the amount of garbage that enters the oceans. This is still not enough. To see more about EPA laws and treaties, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency These grassroots organizations are vital to the protection of the oceans, striving for information on this tragic pollution. However, we should all be involved, it is everyone's responsibility. Let's make these changes before it's too late and kill all ocean life, or even our own.
By Gianna Andrews
Original article (in English)
1. How Does Plastic Get Into The Ocean? Project Green Bag
I found this website helpful in describing the how marine waste has compiled into the different plastic islands.
2. Plastic Contamination in the Atlantic Ocean Earth Times, Kirsten E. Silven
This web article speaks specifically to the Atlantic garbage patch and plastic pollution in the ocean.
3. Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All- And Fast National Geographic
An article discussing how plastic breaks down in the ocean and is ingested by sea birds, asserts that humans will as well be affected by the toxins.
4. Human Health Warning UN New Center
This article provides useful information about the human tendency to waste and pollute and how it is affecting the planet and its species.
5. Adverse Health Effects of Plastics Ecology Center
Discussing the health impacts that plastics have on humans, this article discusses the dangers in different plastic chemicals.
6. Impacts of plastics on human health and ecosystems News Medical
7. http://www.projectgreenbag.com/news/how-does-plastic-get-into-the-ocean ‘Project GreenBag’