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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Sri Lanka probing deaths of sea animals following ship fire

The carcasses of five dolphins and more than 30 sea turtles have been found along the western coast of Sri Lanka after the burning of a cargo ship near the capital Colombo, sparking concerns that the accident is devastating marine wildlife in the region.
After the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 near the harbour, some oil, chemicals and plastic pellets leaked into the sea that is home to several species of large marine mammals. These include the non-migratory blue, humpback and pilot whales; spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins; and thresher and whitetip sharks.
There are also hundreds of sea turtles and millions of reef fish in this part of the Indian Ocean, popular for marine tourism, wildlife research and fishing.

Sri Lanka is seeking an interim claim of US$40 million (S$53 million) from X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operator, as compensation for firefighting expenses from May 20 through June 1.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (Mepa) has yet to fully assess the cost to wildlife and marine environment.
The Sri Lankan navy said the blaze was caused by the vessel’s chemical cargo, which included more than 22 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire.

For now, there is no oil spill, said Dr Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Mepa. But the burnt-out container ship is sinking, with its bottom touching the shallow seabed.
Environmentalists fear that if oil and any remaining chemicals like sodium dioxide, copper and lead spill out, the rich marine life in the region could be at stake.
In the past week, Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation said carcasses of spinner dolphins, humpback dolphins, turtles and eels have washed ashore in coastal regions up to Colombo and Kosgoda. The department’s director-general Chandana Sooriyabandara said tissue samples have been taken from the dead animals and teams were holding necropsies.
Colombo-based conservation biologist Ranil Nanayakkara said: “The carcasses that wash ashore could be only a fraction of total deaths. Most dead animals will sink to the bottom, be eaten by others or be moved by water currents around the world. We have to do studies, and fast, to know what is happening.”
Based on data the government has released, Dr Nanayakkara has ruled out nitric acid, as it is “not potent enough” to kill animals. “It’s not clear what exactly is the cause of death: toxic chemicals or the vibration from the two or three explosions on the ship,” he said.
Marine biologist Asha de Vos, the founder of Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research organisation, warned that not all deaths can be attributed to the ship accident. “It’s important for us to remember that animals die all the time, and their carcasses can be found at sea or washed on beaches throughout the year. Only the necropsies can tell us the cause of death,” she said.
However, all the scientists are worried about the tonnes of plastic pellets covering many beaches, such as Kalpitiya, like heaps of toxic snow. The fish-egg-like pellets are stubborn pollutants that choke marine wildlife and block the digestive tracts of fish that swallow them, thus starving them.
Mr Nanayakkara is afraid that if the pellets travelled in the water columns up the coast, they could wreck the pristine seagrass beds in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, the habitat of dugongs, sharks, rays, seahorses and shrimps, among other creatures.

UNDP World Oceans Day celebration calls for innovation in achieving a sustainable ocean economy

New York – The ocean or ‘blue’ economy represents some $2.3 trillion in market goods and services, from fisheries to tourism to shipping; if the ocean were an economy, it would be the world’s fifth largest.  But our ocean faces unprecedented threats from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change. Collectively, these ocean threats represent nearly $1 trillion in annual socioeconomic losses and threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. The global agenda for moving towards sustainable ocean use is captured in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Life Below Water, and its ten targets.  Four of the SDG 14 targets came due in 2020, another in 2025, making SDG 14 among the most ambitious of all the SDGs.

It is widely understood that achieving the SDG 14 agenda requires moving away from business as usual towards transformational change in the responsible sectors. Such transformations need to include the introduction and scaling up of innovative approaches – technological but also policy, regulatory, economic and financial. Towards this end, in 2020 UNDP with support from Sweden and Norway, launched the Ocean Innovation Challenge (OIC), seeking to identify, finance and mentor innovations that are replicable, scalable, sustainable and potentially transformational.

On Tuesday, June 8, World Oceans Day, the United Nations Development Programme hosted “A Conversation with the 2020 UNDP Ocean Innovators” which highlighted a suite of inspirational ocean protection and restoration projects UNDP is supporting through the Ocean Innovation Challenge.  These innovations were selected through the OIC’s 2020 global call for proposals on SDG 14.1, reduce marine pollution, that received over 600 submissions from a wide range of public, private and civil society stakeholders.

Featured speakers included Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Deputy Prime Minister Per Bolund of Sweden, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on the Ocean Ambassador Peter Thomson, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and Norad Director General Bård Vegar Solhjell. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway moderated a conversation with the first cohort of Ocean Innovators on marine pollution.

Crown Princess Victoria emphasized the interconnectedness of the ocean SDG with all the other SDGs: “For a very long time the seas have given us humans what we need to survive. But now, with climate change, pollution, and overfishing we are at a point where the ocean depends on us. It is time for us to give back before it is too late.”  Ambassador Thomson commended the OIC for supporting innovations “that are inspired by nature and act for nature’s well-being”. Deputy Prime Minister Bolund underscored the importance of the OIC approach to “ocean and coastal restoration and protection (that) sustain livelihoods and the blue economy”.  UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, noted that “the Ocean Innovation Challenge is precisely the kind of initiative which understands that it is in human ingenuity that the greatest hope for the 21st century lies.”

The discussion moderated by Crown Prince Haakon explored the inspiration and ambition behind each of the Innovators.  Three OIC projects, in Comoros, Costa Rica and the Maldives, seek to introduce national level Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to close the loop on ocean plastics pollution by shifting the burden from consumers and municipalities to the plastics producing companies.  A project in Southeast Asia will work with the textiles sector to reduce microfibre shedding from textiles manufacturing.  A partnership with Duke University will create a globally accessible database of best practice in plastics pollution reduction policy approaches.  In the Philippines, Fortuna Coolers is introducing cooling boxes manufactured from waste coconut husks as a substitute for highly polluting polystyrene coolers.  Lastly, two projects are combating ocean nutrient pollution, one through the application of digital tools to optimize wastewater treatment in Cape Verde, the other through the sustainable culture of kelp seaweed as an organic substitute for highly polluting and carbon intensive industrial fertilizer.

In his closing remarks, Norad Director General Solhjell expressed his optimism for humanity’s capacity for transformational change. He underscored Norway’s significant commitment to innovation for ocean sustainability: “To make transformational change, innovation is key and that kind of transformational change is what we need to deal with the great challenges that we are facing with the ocean. To have transformational change you need innovation. And that is the key reason we have partnered with Sida and with UNDP to create this challenge.”

In March 2021, the OIC launched its second call for proposals on sustainable fisheries (SDGs 14.4, 14.7, 14.b); at the end of the call in early May, close to 300 proposals had been received.  Following a detailed and rigorous vetting process, UNDP’s 2021 Ocean Innovators will be announced in late 2021; interested parties can find out more at the OIC website and on social media:

www.oceaninnovationchallenge.org

@UNDPOceanInnov

#UNDPOceanInnovators

https://www.facebook.com/OceanActionHub

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ocean-innovation-challenge-371782199/

https://trello.com/b/QCeFFqIo/undp-oic-2020-ocean-innovators-and-2nd-call-for-innovations

Ocean largely littered with takeaway food and drink items, study finds

Almost half of the litter found in the world’s oceans is plastic made by takeaway food and drinks, new research has shown. In the first comprehensive study of its kind, researchers from 15 institutions in 10 countries analysed 12m data points from 36 global data sets on litter pollution, discovering that plastic accounts for 80 …