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.

By Edward Humes

What happens to our trash? Why are our oceans filling with plastic? Do we really waste 40 percent of our food 65 percent of our energy? Waste is truly our biggest problem, and solving our inherent trashiness can fix our economy, our energy costs, our traffic jams, and help slow climate change—all while making us healthier, happier and more prosperous.     This story-driven and in-depth exploration of the pervasive yet hard-to-see wastefulness that permeates our daily lives illuminates the ways in which we’ve been duped into accepting absolutely insane levels of waste as normal. Total Garbage also tells the story of individuals and communities who are finding the way back from waste, and showing us that our choices truly matter and make a difference.

Our big environmental challenges – climate, energy, plastic pollution, deforestation, toxic emissions—are often framed as problems too big for any one person to solve. Too big even for hope. But when viewed as symptoms of a single greater problem—the epic levels of trash and waste we produce daily–the way forward is clear. Waste is the one problem individuals can positively impact—and not just on the planet, but also on our wallets, our health, and national and energy security. The challenge is seeing our epic wastefulness clearly.

Total Garbage will shine a light on the absurdity of the systems that all of us use daily and take for granted—and it will help both individuals and communities make meaningful changes toward better lives and a cleaner, greener world.

Global production of plastic has resulted in the massive release of nano- and micro-plastics. Microplastics have found their way into humans, and scientists are developing a new methods to detect them. In one study, scientists found microplastics present in all 62 placentas tested from people who had recently given birth. They found various types of plastics, including polyethylene, PVC, and nylon.

The team’s methodology included saponification and ultracentrifugation to extract solid material from human placental tissue samples. They used highly specific and quantitative analysis of plastic with pyrolysis-gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy (Py-GC-MS). Placenta tissues were analyzed with fluorescence microscopy and automated particle count, which showed presence of micro-sized particles but not nano sized particles. Compared to other methodologies and tools, PY-GC-MS detected microplastics in all placenta samples.

The data that Py-GC-MS shows advancements in unbiased quantitative resolution and its application to detect microplastics in human placenta tissue samples. This method, with clinical data, could be essential to understanding the potential impacts of microplastics on pregnancy outcomes.

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.