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Green Junction by Julie Peller Ph.D ~ Toxic Plastics

Green Junction One current focus of my research as an environmental chemist is understanding the presence of micro and nanoplastics in water and investigating their physical and chemical changes. The work has been eye-opening. Overall, it is clear that our plastic products, which have inundated our lives, pose massive environmental and human health problems. Newly published research at Columbia and Rutgers determined tens or hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics are in a typical liter of (plastic) bottled water. While we have been informed about the amount of microplastics in water for a number of years, this group used a more sophisticated method to accurately determine the quantity of nanoplastics (less than a micrometer in size). The smaller sized nanoplastics are more problematic for living systems. We have been led to believe that plastic materials are sturdy and remain fully intact throughout their use; this is false. Plastic materials, especially textiles, release micro and nanoplastics to varying extents. With the steep rise over the years in plastic production, our exposures to micro and nanoplastics have increased. I regularly express that my greatest concern is for our youth, given that about half of all plastic materials manufactured were made in the past twenty years. Their exposures during their formative years are much greater. Another major threat from many plastic materials is the numerous toxic additives. Researchers from NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine analyzed data on the disease burden of these additives and the associated social costs. The negative health effects from ongoing exposures to these additives range from cancers, infertility, and obesity to low birth weights and more. The researchers focused on the most common plastic additives. These are found in a variety of plastic products, such as flooring, adhesives, containers, paints, and as flame retardants in numerous products and much more. Their study quantified the social burden of these toxic additives in the US as 1.22% of the gross domestic product. We need more research in these areas and especially for understanding the effects of these contaminants on human health, since experiments show negative health outcomes. In the meantime, it is best to reduce the plastic materials in your life, from drinking cups to synthetic fabrics to packaged foods, etc. Encourage your elected officials to learn about the public health and environmental problems associated with plastic materials and plastic waste. Additional support is needed for the Global Plastics Treaty. The public should know what additives are in plastics products, how much they leach, and then be provided with alternatives when possible.

Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.

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