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Are Microplastics in the Environment Truly Harmful?

Investigators who analyzed the published literature have found significant gaps in our understanding of the effects of microplastics—plastic particles less than 5mm in size—in the environment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 12:01 am EDT
"We believe regulations and controls may be focusing on activities that are having limited impact and ignoring the most polluting activities such as releases of small particles from tyres on our cars."

Investigators who analyzed the published literature have found significant gaps in our understanding of the effects of microplastics—plastic particles less than 5mm in size—in the environment.

In the Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry analysis, the researchers noted that microplastics occur in surface water and sediments and that fragments and fibers predominate, with beads making up only a small proportion of the detected microplastic types. Concentrations detected are orders of magnitude lower than those reported to affect feeding, reproduction, growth, tissue inflammation, and mortality in organisms. The available data suggest that these materials are not causing harm to the environment, but there is a mismatch between the particle types, size ranges, and concentrations of microparticles used in laboratory tests and those measured in the environment. Select environmental regions have also received limited attention.

“There is an urgent need for better quality and more holistic monitoring studies alongside more environmentally realistic effects studies on the particle sizes and material types that are actually in the environment,” said co-author Dr. Alistair Boxall, of the University of York, in the UK. “We believe regulations and controls may be focusing on activities that are having limited impact and ignoring the most polluting activities such as releases of small particles from tyres on our cars.”

Additional Information

Link to Study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/etc.4268

About Journal

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) publishes two journals: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ET&C) and Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (IEAM). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is dedicated to furthering scientific knowledge and disseminating information on environmental toxicology and chemistry, including the application of these sciences to risk assessment. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management focuses on the application of science in environmental decision-making, regulation, and management, including aspects of policy and law, and the development of scientifically sound approaches to environmental problem solving. Together, these journals provide a forum for professionals in academia, business, government, and other segments of society involved in the use, protection, and management of the environment for the enhancement of ecological health and human welfare.

About Wiley

Wiley is a global leader in education and scholarly research. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, combined with our digital learning, assessment and certification solutions help universities, learned societies, businesses, governments and individuals increase the academic and professional impact of their work. For more than 210 years, we have delivered consistent performance to our stakeholders. The company's website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.

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