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.

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.

While the Safe Drinking Water Act guarantees all Americans access to clean, drinkable water, it hasn’t worked out that way in practice. NRDC partnered with the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) and Coming Clean to analyze nationwide violations of the law from 2016 to 2019. Researchers have found a disturbing relationship between sociodemographic characteristics—especially race—and drinking water violations. They found that the rate of drinking water violations increased in:

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities
  • Areas with more non-native English speakers
  • Areas with more people living under crowded housing conditions
  • Areas with more people with sparse access to transportation

The analysis revealed that race, ethnicity, and language had the strongest relationship to slow and inadequate enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That means that water systems that serve the communities that are the most marginalized are more likely to be in violation of the law—and to stay in violation for longer periods of time.