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Chelsea Rochman, a marine biologist with the University of California, Davis, and part of the STAC expert panel, has joined other scientists who want plastic waste classified as “hazardous” by governments around the world. Plastic debris is associated with a “cocktail of contaminants,” she explains, made up of chemical ingredients in the plastic as well as pollutants that attach or “sorb” to the plastic in the environment. The mix includes 78 percent of the chemicals listed as “priority pollutants” by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The study also calls attention to microfibers, the tiny strands of synthetic fibers frequently used in making clothing. Microfibers have the potential to become an even larger issue than microbeads, according to Kirk Havens, marine debris researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and former STAC chair. “Every time you wash your polyester clothes, hundreds or thousands of microfibers enter the wash water, and the physiological damage to organisms from this source is unclear,” he said.
Though the STAC panel has officially delivered its findings, members plan to continue to study the impacts of plastics in the Chesapeake Bay. The toxics contaminants goal of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement specifies the need to understand and control the impacts from “contaminants of emerging and widespread concern.” Microplastics fit that description, says Swanson of the Bay commission.
STAC publication 16-002, “Technical Review of Microbeads/Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay,” is available at www.chesapeake.org/pubs/352_Wardrop2016.pdf.
Bay Journal reporter Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Credit: Bay Journal News Service.