Page 1 of 3Tiny bits of “microplastics” that wash into the Bay may endanger aquatic life in the estuary and its tributaries,but more research is needed to better understand the threat, according to a report from scientists and policy makers released in mid-April.
Although federal legislation was approved in December that addresses a portion of the issue, the report from the Chesapeake Bay Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee said the law did not eliminate the need to find new ways to reduce microplastic pollution and recommended additional legislation to address the issue, which is of growing concern for waterways around the globe.
Microplastics — pieces of synthetic polymers smaller than 5 millimeters — are found in water bodies everywhere, with more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating at or near the ocean surface, according to a recent estimate. Researchers have found the plastic bits in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Plastics have been found in shellfish, fish, sea salt — and even in beer.
Microplastics come from larger plastic items, like bottles, bags and packaging, that end up in water bodies and gradually break down into smaller and smaller pieces. There are also microbeads, manufactured tiny spheres of plastic measuring less than the width of a human hair that are widely used in commercial cleansers and personal care products like facial scrubs.
Aquatic organisms can ingest microplastics from the water column or bottom sediments, or by eating other organisms lower on the food chain that have consumed them. Substances that make up plastic or additives, like flame retardants, may be toxic to organisms — and microplastics also can adsorb toxins from the water or serve as carriers of pathogens, including Vibrio. In aquatic worms, plastics cause weight loss and stress. Plastics cross membranes in fish and cause inflammation, altered behavior and changes in genes. Plastics have been found in one in four fish in the marketplace.