Biologist estimates helium balloons are ending up in Great Lakes by the hundreds of thousands

The plastic balloons we use to mark some of the biggest milestones in our lives — births, deaths, graduations, homecomings, engagements, gender reveal parties — are ending up in the Great Lakes by the hundreds of thousands, according to an Ontario biologist who spent two weeks gathering trash. Leanne Grieves is a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Hamilton who studies bird behaviour and communication. This summer, she’s been working at Birds Canada at Long Point on the north shore of Lake Erie.  “Lake Erie is beautiful and the shoreline is just stunning, especially if you’re on the Long Point peninsula,” she said. “It’s really a glorious place to be.”  What wasn’t so glorious, though, was the trash, which became such an eyesore for Grieves that she couldn’t help herself.  Hundreds of balloons along 7 km of beach “There is just so much garbage washing up on shore,” she said. “After a couple of days driving up and down to our site, I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous. We have to start cleaning this up.'” Leanne Grieves and Ryan Leys, a fellow biologist, stand in front of a pile of trash they collected over a seven-kilometre stretch of Lake Erie shoreline. The garbage bags are filled with helium balloons.

Study: About 25% of chemicals in plastics are 'substances of potential concern'

June 22 (UPI) — One-quarter of chemicals in plastics are “substances of potential concern,” according to an analysis published Tuesday by the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Of the roughly 10,500 chemicals in plastic, nearly 2,500, or 24%, are capable of accumulating in living organisms, including humans and animals, and are potentially toxic or cancer-causing, the data showed.
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In addition, more than half of these substances are not regulated in the United States, the European Union or Japan, where more than 900 of them are approved for use in food contact plastics, the researchers said.
“These substances are often toxic to aquatic life, cause cancer or damage specific organs,” study co-author Helene Wiesinger said in a press release.

“It is particularly striking that many of the questionable substances are barely regulated or are ambiguously described,” said Wiesinger, a doctoral student in ecological systems design at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, where the research was conducted.
Each year, more than 350 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide, and all of them contain a wide variety of chemicals that may pose a significant risk to people and the environment, according to Wiesinger and her colleagues.
These chemicals include additives, such as antioxidants and flame retardants as well as solvents and other substances used in production — and only a small proportion of these chemicals have been extensively studied, the researchers said.

Still, research suggests that plastic packaging is a main source of organic contamination in food, while phthalate plasticizers and brominated flame retardants are detectable in house dust and indoor air.
Exposure to these substances can have a negative impact on the health of consumers and workers and on ecosystems, while also affecting recycling processes and the safety and quality of recycled plastics.
For this study, the researchers compiled a comprehensive database of plastic monomers, additives and processing aids used in the production and processing of plastics and systematically categorized them on the basis of usage patterns and hazard potential.

They identified approximately 10,500 chemicals in plastic, including 2,489 used in packaging, 2,429 textiles and 2,109 that come in contact with food as part of packaging.
More than 500 of the chemicals are used in toys and medical devices, including 247 in masks.
Of the 10,500 substances identified, the researchers categorized 2,480 substances as substances of potential concern, they said.
Of these, 53% are not regulated in the United States, the European Union or Japan.
In addition, research is lacking for about 10% of the identified substances of potential concern.
The researchers were unable to categorize 4,100, or 39%, of the substances they identified due to a lack of “hazard classifications,” they said.
“Until now, research, industry and regulators have mainly concentrated on a limited number of dangerous chemicals known to be present in plastics,” Wiesinger said.

New EU rules would permit use of most polymers without checks, experts warn

New rules on chemicals to be debated by the EU this week would allow most polymers to be used without further checks, according to a group of scientists.Only about 6% out of about 200,000 polymers would require extensive safety checks under proposals being discussed as part of Europe’s Reach chemicals regulations.This is too little, and would allow many common plastics to be used despite valid concerns about their possible future harms, according to a group of 19 scientists who have written to the European Commission.The European Environmental Bureau, an NGO, says exceptions to the safety checks include polystyrenes, which have been linked to lung inflammation in rats; polyacrylamides used in the treatment of wastewater, adhesives and food packaging, which can degrade to the monomer acrylamide, a neurotoxin; polyesters used in textiles, which are sources of microplastics; and polyolefins, also a source of microplastics.A report for the European Commission concluded that some plastics could have harmful impacts if unchecked.The commission said the proposals were at an early stage, and further discussion would take place on Tuesday. A spokesperson said: “This meeting will discuss some technical aspects of how to register polymers, but not yet discuss the final outcome of how polymers shall be registered, and there is no draft regulation available yet.“We have seen the IPCP publication [the letter signed by 19 scientists] and we will, to the extent possible, take the concerns raised into consideration while advancing our proposal. As the commission proposal for the registration of polymers is not yet finalised, we cannot disclose further information or comment on the estimated number of polymers that need to be registered.”Bethanie Carney Almroth, an associate professor of ecotoxicology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and a signatory to the letter, said: “The main goal of the [EU] process should be to ensure a high level or protection of people and environmental health. But our main concern is regarding the lack of data and lack of transparency. There is not enough data to ensure the safety of thousands of polymers in production, even if toxicity has not been demonstrated yet.”She said regulators should abide by the precautionary principle, by which new substances should not be assumed to be harmless, but the onus should be on the producers to demonstrate that they are safe.She added: “Plastic use is pervasive, and [the term] polymers goes beyond plastics to include many more types of products used in numerous applications throughout society. So the question of exposure is significant, and not negligible. There are studies indicating some polymers or their monomers/oligomers can cause negative impacts for human health, including hormone disruption and canerogenicity. There are data showing that these effects can occur in organisms in the environment.”Ksenia Groh, another signatory, who is group leader of bioanalytics for Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, said: “Data about the risks of specific polymers are scarce to nonexistent. Up to now, a transparent, comprehensive data collection on the safety of all polymers has not been carried out. Absence of data does not equal absence of harm. It just means that we don’t know … It’s not the public, government, consumers or scientists who should provide this data, but the producer themselves.”Dolores Romano, chemicals policy acting manager at the European Environmental Bureau, said the increasing pervasiveness of microplastics in the environment showed that polymers could now be finding their way into our bodies in ways that are more harmful than regulators have anticipated. She called on the European Commission to act.Romano said: “Polymer pollution is out of control. We are exposed to it daily, as they are used in plastic, textiles, cleaning products and even cosmetics. We used to think of plastic pollution as bulky junk massing in the environment. Now we know that it breaks up into a vast cloud of micro- and nanoplastics contaminating the land, water and air, as well as showing up in our bodies. We know already that dozens of polymers are toxic, so officials must be allowed to check the safety of the rest.”She accused the plastics industry of seeking to block more comprehensive rules from the EU. “Industry is hijacking a once-in-a-decade opportunity to probe polymers and share this information. We can’t afford to have them close our eyes to a growing problem for another decade.”

Editorial: A ‘virgin plastics’ tax could help save the oceans

TOUGH, FLEXIBLE and cheap, plastic is essential to modern living. But, much like fossil fuels, the material’s convenience comes at a price. Humans make lots of the stuff, then throw it into the ocean. This is very inexpensive, but it is terrible for the environment and unsustainable for humanity. Now lawmakers are looking at a more aggressive response: taxing “virgin plastics” — that is, new material created from oil rather than from recycled stuff. This would be a rational response to a substantial need.
Scientists reckon that 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Among the results is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of microplastics, fishing gear, bags, shoes and other debris in the North Pacific Ocean. There is plenty of visible trash, but much of the waste weathers into tiny bits that circulate up and down the water column. Marine animals feed in this plastic soup; they either die or become vectors for these microplastics to enter the food chain — at the top of which sit human beings. Microplastics also gunk up the water to the point that sunlight cannot reach plankton and other key ocean species. The effects are diverse and widespread; scientists warn that plastics are carrying invasive species across the planet. The plastic problem gets worse every day. Researchers have discovered microplastics off California’s famous Monterey Bay; others have found that the amount of marine debris washing up on remote beaches increased by more than 10 times over the course of the 2010s. When lawmakers proposed an ocean cleanliness bill in 2019, they noted that, without change, the amount of plastic would outweigh the fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. This might be a surprise to many consumers who dutifully fill their recycling bins every week. But only about 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled in the United States; the rest ends up burned, which produces greenhouse emissions, or thrown into a landfill. Low oil prices make new plastics cheap to produce, and recent changes in the recycling industry have made recycling operations even less viable. Enter a group of House Democrats, who propose to levy a tax on virgin plastics in single-use products and to invest the proceeds into ocean conservation efforts. Staffers for Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, said that the senator is working on a virgin plastics tax proposal of his own. Activists in California aim to put such a tax up for a vote next year.A virgin plastics tax would encourage businesses and consumers to substitute more environmentally friendly alternatives and boost the recycling industry without direct subsidies. Opponents object that the tax would be regressive — the same objections industry lodged against modest plastic bag and soda taxes. But the virgin plastics tax need not be punishingly high. And Wired’s Matt Simon points out that sufficient alternatives exist in many cases to limit the impact on consumers. Critics also argue that some alternative products, such as paper, might be heavier and cost more in greenhouse emissions to create and transport. Yet as the energy sector steadily decarbonizes, those greenhouse impacts will lessen; meanwhile, the ocean will continue filling with trash. The overwhelming flow of plastic into the ocean requires an assertive and smart response. Taxing virgin plastics ticks both boxes.

Read more:

Ann Telnaes cartoon: Our (over)use of plastics

Marcus Eriksen: I thought I’d seen it all studying plastics. Then my team found 2,000 bags in a camel.

The Post’s View: Every human should be alarmed by the plastic crisis in our oceans

Plastic pollution: China starts tackling colossal problem

Issued on: 17/06/2021 – 17:25

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of plastic products. For years, most of it has ended up in poorly managed landfills, which go on to pollute the environment and oceans. But a series of new laws in effect since January 2020 aim to significantly reduce plastic pollution over five years by phasing out single-use plastic, encouraging research and development of plastic alternatives and improving waste management and recycling. So are these goals realistic and is China willing to kick its plastic addiction? Our correspondents report.

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Programme prepared by James Vasina

Retired St. James Parish teacher wins global award for pollution fight

Sharon Lavigne never imagined herself an environmental activist. The retired teacher had spent much of her life working with special education students in the St. James Parish public school system.But the idea of another chemical plant being built in her parish, after she had lost acquaintances to cancer that she blames on industrial pollution, spurred her into action in 2018. She began organizing and educating neighbors on the risks, an effort that gained global recognition Tuesday when she was named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Sharon Lavigne, a retired teacher turned community organizer, leads a song with St. John the Baptist Parish residents protesting a proposed grain terminal on May 15, 2021. Lavigne was just named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize. (Photo by Halle Parker, Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate)

Lavigne, 68, had never heard of the award before she learned of her selection in December. She was in disbelief.”I’m doing this to save our community. I’m doing this to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I wasn’t looking for recognition,” the Welcome resident said. “I had no idea people could win awards for this.”Winners receive grant and networking opportunities through the Goldman Environmental Foundation. The foundation also elevates their campaigns and offers legal assistance. A virtual awards ceremony was set Tuesday evening.Lavigne’s group, RISE St. James, claimed its first victory in 2019 when Wanhua Chemical abandoned plans to build a $1.3 billion plastics complex near Romeville. The 10-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Convent and Lemannville already boasts 17 industrial plants.She and RISE St. James have worked with environmental groups to protest and sue several other plants proposed in the area, such as the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex and $2.2 billion South Louisiana Methanol plant. In 2019, a joint investigation by The Advocate, The Times-Picayune and ProPublica, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, found that Formosa and other new industry in St. James since 2015 posed an acute risk for predominantly poor, Black residents along the river.

The chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and one of his committee colleagues urged President Joe Biden on Wednesday to “p…

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“When the governor of Louisiana came to St. James Parish and announced Formosa Plastics was coming to town, Sharon Lavigne was brave enough to stand up and say no. Sharon said she had a different vision for her historic Black community,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Her leadership, courage and vision are rewarded today by the Goldman Prize. And she would be the first to say that this is just the beginning.”Lavigne was selected by an international jury for her leadership in addressing “environmental injustice,” said Ilan Kayatsky, the Goldman Environmental Prize’s communications director, “and spearheading a fight that needed to be fought.””With the founding of her organization, RISE St. James, the defeat of Wanhua and a growing community campaign to prevent the encroachment by Formosa Plastics, Sharon has demonstrated – profoundly – why grassroots leadership is so important.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, which are members of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

When people see she’s won this award, Lavigne said, she hopes it shows people to “stand up for what is right.””If you’re right, everything will fall into place,” she said. Lavigne is the first Louisiana recipient of the Goldman prize since Norco resident Margie Richard won it in 2004 for her work to reduce emissions at Shell Chemical’s plant. She joins five other regional recipients across the world: Africa – Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, who fought single-use plastics pollution in MalawiAsia – Thai Van Nguye, who founded the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife nonprofit to rescue animals from illegal wildlife tradeEurope – Maida Bilal, whose protest led to the cancelation of two hydropower dam projects in Bosnia and HerzegovinaIsland nations – Kimiko Hirata, who leads a campaign to shut down Japan’s coal-burning power plantsSouth and Central America – Liz Chicaje Churay, who worked with partners to create Yaguas National Park in Peru and protect more than 2 million acres of the Amazon River basin rainforest.

United Nations observers said this week that further industrialization in the Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans i…

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