Ocean Plastics Soak Up Pollutants

Some marine plastic debris attracts more pollutants than lab studies suggest

Some plastic debris in the ocean continues to absorb organic pollutants for months after reaching marine environments, according to a field study presented at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday. The findings, which contrast with earlier laboratory studies, could change how researchers assess the effect of plastics on marine animals.

When fish and other marine creatures eat plastic debris, they consume a cocktail of multiple stressors, including the plastic itself and the pollutants it absorbs, said Chelsea Rochman, a graduate student at San Diego State University, who presented the study in the Division of Environmental Chemistry.

Rochman and colleagues deployed pellets used to make six types of common plastics in San Diego Bay for up to a year. They retrieved samples at monthly intervals and used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to measure concentrations of more than 50 persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Some plastics continued to accumulate these pollutants for months, in contrast with earlier lab studies showing that plastics come to equilibrium with these pollutants over several days.

C&EN

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3 responses to “Ocean Plastics Soak Up Pollutants

  1. I’m a charter fisherman and see on a weekly bases people discarding fishing line and other debris in our water way and quickly demand they either get it out or be reported, we all have to take a part in combating this. The much larger freighters however are a different story as well as our very own Naval fleet who have similar practices…But, as the old adage goes, it does starts at home???

  2. Great read by the way!

  3. Sorry, it sounds like a junk study where the rate of approach to equilibrium was mass transfer limited by putting too much plastic with too little of water circulation rate. When you are tying to equilibrate something like PE with a POP with a Kow > 6 — 10^6 partitioning coefficient, you need several million times the plastic volume in water volume over the contact time.

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