Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Plastic


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a global concern; concentrations reach 580,000 pieces per km(2) and production is increasing exponentially. Although a large number of empirical studies provide emerging evidence of impacts to wildlife, there has been little systematic assessment of risk. We performed a spatial risk analysis using predicted debris distributions and ranges for 186 seabird species to model debris exposure. We adjusted the model using published data on plastic ingestion by seabirds. Eighty of 135 (59%) species with studies reported in the literature between 1962 and 2012 had ingested plastic, and, within those studies, on average 29% of individuals had plastic in their gut. Standardizing the data for time and species, we estimate the ingestion rate would reach 90% of individuals if these studies were conducted today. Using these results from the literature, we tuned our risk model and were able to capture 71% of the variation in plastic ingestion based on a model including exposure, time, study method, and body size. We used this tuned model to predict risk across seabird species at the global scale. The highest area of expected impact occurs at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, which contrasts with previous work identifying this area as having low anthropogenic pressures and concentrations of marine debris. We predict that plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, that it will reach 99% of all species by 2050, and that effective waste management can reduce this threat.

Concepts: Albatross, New Zealand, Plastic, Atlantic Ocean, Waste, Ocean, Scientific method, Pacific Ocean


Plastic debris litters aquatic habitats globally, the majority of which is microscopic (< 1 mm), and is ingested by a large range of species. Risks associated with such small fragments come from the material itself and from chemical pollutants that sorb to it from surrounding water. Hazards associated with the complex mixture of plastic and accumulated pollutants are largely unknown. Here, we show that fish, exposed to a mixture of polyethylene with chemical pollutants sorbed from the marine environment, bioaccumulate these chemical pollutants and suffer liver toxicity and pathology. Fish fed virgin polyethylene fragments also show signs of stress, although less severe than fish fed marine polyethylene fragments. We provide baseline information regarding the bioaccumulation of chemicals and associated health effects from plastic ingestion in fish and demonstrate that future assessments should consider the complex mixture of the plastic material and their associated chemical pollutants.

Concepts: Ocean, Material, Chemical compound, Toxicology, Pollution, Chemical substance, Plastic, Mixture


Bath toys pose an interesting link between flexible plastic materials, potable water, external microbial and nutrient contamination, and potentially vulnerable end-users. Here, we characterized biofilm communities inside 19 bath toys used under real conditions. In addition, some determinants for biofilm formation were assessed, using six identical bath toys under controlled conditions with either clean water prior to bathing or dirty water after bathing. All examined bath toys revealed notable biofilms on their inner surface, with average total bacterial numbers of 5.5 × 106 cells/cm2(clean water controls), 9.5 × 106 cells/cm2(real bath toys), and 7.3 × 107 cells/cm2(dirty water controls). Bacterial community compositions were diverse, showing many rare taxa in real bath toys and rather distinct communities in control bath toys, with a noticeable difference between clean and dirty water control biofilms. Fungi were identified in 58% of all real bath toys and in all dirty water control toys. Based on the comparison of clean water and dirty water control bath toys, we argue that bath toy biofilms are influenced by (1) the organic carbon leaching from the flexible plastic material, (2) the chemical and biological tap water quality, (3) additional nutrients from care products and human body fluids in the bath water, as well as, (4) additional bacteria from dirt and/or the end-users' microbiome. The present study gives a detailed characterization of bath toy biofilms and a better understanding of determinants for biofilm formation and development in systems comprising plastic materials in contact with potable water.

Concepts: Biofilm, Fungus, Drinking water, Plastic, Bacteria, Tap water


Plastics in the marine environment have become a major concern because of their persistence at sea, and adverse consequences to marine life and potentially human health. Implementing mitigation strategies requires an understanding and quantification of marine plastic sources, taking spatial and temporal variability into account. Here we present a global model of plastic inputs from rivers into oceans based on waste management, population density and hydrological information. Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Pacific Ocean, Plastic, Atlantic Ocean, Marine debris, Oceanography, Sea, Ocean


The occurrence of microplastics (MPs) in saltwater bodies is relatively well studied, but nothing is known about their presence in most of the commercial salts that are widely consumed by humans across the globe. Here, we extracted MP-like particles larger than 149 μm from 17 salt brands originating from 8 different countries followed by the identification of their polymer composition using micro-Raman spectroscopy. Microplastics were absent in one brand while others contained between 1 to 10 MPs/Kg of salt. Out of the 72 extracted particles, 41.6% were plastic polymers, 23.6% were pigments, 5.50% were amorphous carbon, and 29.1% remained unidentified. The particle size (mean ± SD) was 515 ± 171 μm. The most common plastic polymers were polypropylene (40.0%) and polyethylene (33.3%). Fragments were the primary form of MPs (63.8%) followed by filaments (25.6%) and films (10.6%). According to our results, the low level of anthropogenic particles intake from the salts (maximum 37 particles per individual per annum) warrants negligible health impacts. However, to better understand the health risks associated with salt consumption, further development in extraction protocols are needed to isolate anthropogenic particles smaller than 149 μm.

Concepts: Water, Plasticizer, Polyethylene terephthalate, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Carbon, Polymer, Plastic


Higher house dust levels of PBDE flame retardants (FRs) have been reported in California than other parts of the world, due to the state’s furniture flammability standard. However, changing levels of these and other FRs have not been evaluated following the 2004 U.S. phase-out of PentaBDE and OctaBDE. We analyzed dust collected in 16 California homes in 2006 and again in 2011 for 62 FRs and organohalogens, which represents the broadest investigation of FRs in homes. Fifty-five compounds were detected in at least one sample; 41 in at least 50% of samples. Concentrations of chlorinated OPFRs, including two (TCEP and TDCIPP) listed as carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65, were found up to 0.01% in dust, higher than previously reported in the U.S. In 75% of the homes, we detected TDBPP, or brominated “Tris,” which was banned in children’s sleepwear because of carcinogenicity. To our knowledge, this is the first report on TDBPP in house dust. Concentrations of Firemaster 550 components (EH-TBB, BEH-TEBP, and TPHP) were higher in 2011 than 2006, consistent with its use as a PentaBDE replacement. Results highlight the evolving nature of FR exposures and suggest that manufacturers continue to use hazardous chemicals and replace chemicals of concern with chemicals with uncharacterized toxicity.

Concepts: Dust explosion, DNA, Plastic, Fire retardant, Brominated flame retardant, Flame retardants, Decabromodiphenyl ether, United States


Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are high production volume and ubiquitous chemicals that are quickly metabolized in the body. Traditionally, studies have relied on single spot urine analyses to assess exposure; ignoring variability in concentrations throughout a day or over a longer period of time. We compared BPA and phthalate metabolite results from urine samples collected at five different time points. Participants (n=80) were asked to collect all voids in a 24 h period on a weekday and then again on a weekend before 20 weeks of pregnancy. During the second and third trimesters and in the postpartum period, single spot urines were collected. Variability over time in urinary concentrations was assessed using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) and the sensitivity to correctly classify a single sample as high or low versus the geometric mean (GM) of all samples was calculated. We found low reproducibility and sensitivity of BPA and all phthalate metabolites throughout pregnancy and into the postpartum period but much higher reproducibility within a day. Time of day when the urine was collected was a significant predictor of specific gravity adjusted exposure levels. We concluded that, if the interest is in average exposures across pregnancy, maternal/fetal exposure estimation may be more accurate if multiple measurements, collected across the course of the entire pregnancy, rather than a single spot measure, are performed.Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology advance online publication, 24 September 2014; doi:10.1038/jes.2014.65.

Concepts: Plastic, Metabolism, Childbirth, Pregnancy, Arithmetic mean, Hour, Bisphenol A, Time


Global warming, market and production capacity are being the key drivers for selecting the main players for the next decades in the market of bio-based plastics. The drop-in bio-based polymers such as the bio-based polyethylene terephtalate (PET) or polyethylene (PE), chemically identical to their petrochemical counterparts but having a component of biological origin, are in the top of the list. They are followed by new polymers such as PHA and PLA with a significant market growth rate since 2014 with projections to 2020. Research will provide improved strains designed through synthetic and systems biology approaches; furthermore, the use of low-cost substrates will contribute to the widespread application of these bio- based polymers. The durability of plastics is not considered anymore as a virtue, and interesting bioprospecting strategies to isolate microorganisms for assimilating the recalcitrant plastics will pave the way for in vivo strategies for plastic mineralization. In this context, waste management of bio-based plastic will be one of the most important issues in the near future in terms of the circular economy. There is a clear need for standardized labelling and sorting instructions, which should be regulated in a coordinated way by policymakers and material producers.

Concepts: Resin identification code, Plastics, Polystyrene, Polyethylene, Biology, Thermoplastic, Plastic, Polymer


Plastics are synthetic polymers derived from fossil oil and largely resistant to biodegradation. Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) represent ∼92% of total plastic production. PE is largely utilized in packaging, representing ∼40% of total demand for plastic products ( with over a trillion plastic bags used every year [1]. Plastic production has increased exponentially in the past 50 years (Figure S1A in Supplemental Information, published with this article online). In the 27 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland up to 38% of plastic is discarded in landfills, with the rest utilized for recycling (26%) and energy recovery (36%) via combustion (, carrying a heavy environmental impact. Therefore, new solutions for plastic degradation are urgently needed. We report the fast bio-degradation of PE by larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella, producing ethylene glycol.

Concepts: Polyethylene terephthalate, Polypropylene, Moth, Polyethylene, Lepidoptera, Petroleum, Plastic, Polymer


The tremendous increases in production of plastic materials has led to an accumulation of plastic pollution worldwide. Many studies have addressed the physical effects of large-sized plastics on organisms, whereas few have focused on plastic nanoparticles, despite their distinct chemical, physical and mechanical properties. Hence our understanding of their effects on ecosystem function, behaviour and metabolism of organisms remains elusive. Here we demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles reduce survival of aquatic zooplankton and penetrate the blood-to-brain barrier in fish and cause behavioural disorders. Hence, for the first time, we uncover direct interactions between plastic nanoparticles and brain tissue, which is the likely mechanism behind the observed behavioural disorders in the top consumer. In a broader perspective, our findings demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles are transferred up through a food chain, enter the brain of the top consumer and affect its behaviour, thereby severely disrupting the function of natural ecosystems.

Concepts: Human brain, Nature, Brain, Plastic, Organism, Food chain, Psychology, Ecosystem