Health Scientists’ Global Plastics Treaty

Dr. Pete Myers, Prof. Dr. Dick Vethaak, Prof. Dr. Terrence J. Collins, and Prof. Dr. Barbro Melgert have prepared a policy briefing on the UN Plastics Treaty, on behalf of the Plastic Health Council. These top health experts lay out the necessary aspects of an effective Treaty, and point out shortcomings of the existing Draft Treaty. Lastly, it highlights the latest scientific understanding of the risk of plastics and plastic chemicals, and additionally lays out short-term and long-term goals that expert health scientists propose for a Global Plastics Treaty that heeds the known science of the impact of plastic chemicals and plastic particles on human health.

In support of addressing the global problem of plastic pollution, and pursuant to a congressional mandate in the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to commence a study on the United States’ contribution to global ocean plastic waste and recommend potential means to reduce those contributions. At the close of 2021, NASEM issued its report “Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste.”

This report confirmed the nation’s outsized role in global plastic pollution and recommended the
United States (U.S.) adopt a plan of action by the end of 2022. To advance these efforts, the NASEM Report recommended the United States create a “coherent, comprehensive, and crosscutting federal research and policy strategy that focuses on identifying, implementing, and assessing equitable and effective interventions across the entire plastic life cycle to reduce U.S. contribution of plastic waste to the environment, including the ocean.”

The NASEM Report laid out proposed interventions across the plastic life cycle and provided a brief outline of existing U.S. legal authorities available to support such interventions. This report, prepared by Environmental Law Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, expands on and adds to those legal authorities and discusses their potential applicability to each intervention area.

A critical issue from an occupational health perspective is how workers might be exposed to Nano- and microplastic particles (NMPPs). While much attention has focused on these plastic particles in water and food, less attention has been paid to their presence in the air. Thus, inhalation of NMPPs in the workplace should be a major concern.

Workplaces such as waste management and recycling operations could expose workers to NMPPs from the degradation of synthetic products. Office or telephone workers and custodial staff can be exposed with synthetic fibers from the carpet, along with many other professions who can be vulnerable to airborne NMPPs from the breakdown of plastic.

Inhaling NMPPs can lead to toxicity that is not yet labeled partly due to their complex chemical makeup, varied sizes, and frequent combination with other hazards, resulting in mixed exposures. It can lead to adverse health effects, especially effecting the lungs when inhaled.

Presently there are no occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics. In the absence of occupational exposure limits for nano- and microplastics workplace safety efforts should focus on minimizing potential exposure through appropriate engineering controls such as isolation cabinets, exhaust ventilation, and utilizing good industrial hygiene practices.

Forever chemicals (PFAS) are compounds of emerging concern due to their persistence in the global water cycle and detection in water sources.

A study investigated forever chemicals or PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in U.S. water bottles as these toxic chemicals have been found in drinking water. Scientist investigated over 100 labeled water bottle products in the USA for PFAS and related factors. They have screen specifically for 32 target chemical compounds, half of which were detected.

These forever chemicals were detected using SPE-LC-MS/MS, and were found in 39 out of 101 tested products. Types and concertation of these forever chemicals varies, some being more prevalent than others. Purified water products contained less PFAS compared to Spring water products, which can be attributed to reverse osmosis that processes purified water.

As to date, there are no enforceable regulations against these organic pollutants.

Learn why we must take action on climate change by taking action on plastic pollution in this one-pager prepared by Plastic Pollution Coalition. Made for sharing during the UN Plastics Treaty negotiations, and includes a link to a petition calling on the U.S. Government to take a stronger stance on this global agreement.

Chemicals are a central aspect of the plastics issue. Although there is a wealth of scientific information on plastic chemicals and polymers to inform policymakers, implementing this evidence is challenging because information is scattered and not easily accessible. The PlastChem report and database address this issue by comprehensively and consistently synthesizing the state of the science on plastic chemicals, including their hazard properties, and their presence in polymers. The state-of-the-science report provides the publicly available evidence to inform policy development that protects public health and the environment.

The PlastChem project aims to address the fragmented understanding of the chemicals in plastics and their impact on health and the environment. This initiative has created a high-quality, comprehensive state-of-the-science report synthesizing the evidence about chemicals in plastics to inform an evidence-based policy development for better protecting public health and the environment.