Plastic pollution that ‘look like rocks and pebbles’ have been found littering British beaches and may be leaking LEAD into the environment
- The finding was made after researchers studied 165 of the strange plastic ‘rocks’
- An environmental charity collected then on beaches across Cornish coastline
- The lumps, dubbed pyroplastic, are believed to form when fire melts plastic
- These grey round lumps are then weathered at sea and become more pebble-like
Plastic pollution may be hiding in plain site on beaches across the globe after scientists uncovered ‘rocks and pebbles’ littering the British coast.
This newly discovered form of environmental containment, dubbed pyroplastic, is believed to form when fire melts plastic pollution into chunks.
These grey round lumps of material are then weathered by their aquatic surroundings and become more pebble-like, before washing ashore.
The finding was made after experts studied strange ‘rocks’ that volunteers from an environmental charity had collected on beaches across Cornwall.
Researchers say their study suggests that an additive to the faux-rocks used to colour plastic may be leaching lead into our oceans.
Exposure to lead can be extremely harmful to human health – especially to unborn babies and young children.
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Plastic pollution may be hiding in plain site on beaches across the globe after scientists uncovered ‘rocks and pebbles’ littering the British coast (pictured)
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT PYROPLASTIC?
Pyroplastics are a type of marine pollution created when plastics are burned.
They range from angular chunks of debris held together by plastic to more weathered-rounded pebbles and stones.
Tests revealed they are made of soft plastics used in carrier bags, or the hard type found in plastic pots, takeaway containers and elsewhere.
They may also be leaking lead, used to colour the plastics, into the environment.
Tubes created by marine worms in the plastics suggest they may even have entered the food chain.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth examined 165 chunks of plastic ‘rock’ found on the beaches of Whitsand Bay in Cornwall.
A further 30 chunks were uncovered in the Orkneys in Scotland, County Kerry in Ireland, and north-western Spain were then sent in after a call was put out on social media.
Tests revealed that some were made of the soft plastics used in carrier bags and to wrap fruit and veg containers in the supermarket.
Others were made of the hard type found in plastic pots, takeaway containers and elsewhere, or a mixture of soft and hard.
They also uncovered the presence of chromium and lead, alongside a whole raft of chemical additives.
Lead chromate, a compound of the two, is used to give plastic a yellow, red, or orange hue.
Levels of the chemicals exceed safety limits set by the European Union that came into force in 2003, suggesting the pyroplastics are older.
This newly discovered form of environmental containment, dubbed pyroplastic, is believed to form when fire melts plastic pollution out at sea into chunks (pictured)
These grey round lumps of material are then weathered by their aquatic surroundings and become more pebble-like (pictured), before washing ashore
‘Pyroplastics are evidently formed from melting or burning of plastic and are distinctly different from manufactured marine plastics in terms of origin, appearance and thickness,’ said the researchers, writing in the published paper.
‘Since pyroplastics have been retrieved by colleagues from Atlantic beaches in Spain and Pacific beaches of Vancouver, they are not a regional phenomenon.
‘It is suspected that their distribution may be widespread but that documentation is lacking because of a distinctly geogenic appearance.
‘Pyroplastics require their own classification within the umbrella of marine litter, and are a source of finer plastic particulates through mechanical breakdown and a potential source of contaminants for organisms that inhabit or ingest them.’
Researchers found that some of these traces came from inside tubes burrowed buy the marine worm Spirobranchus triqueter.
That suggests that the plastic pollution can be eaten by animals and, may therefore, have already entered the food chain.
They say that more research is needed to find out whether this is the case and, if so, how widespread the problem is.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.
The finding was made after experts studied strange ‘rocks’ that volunteers from an environmental charity had collected on beaches across Cornwall (red circles)
Researchers from the University of Plymouth examined 165 chunks of plastic ‘rock’ found on the beaches of Whitsand Bay in Cornwall. A further 30 chunks were uncovered in the Orkneys in Scotland, County Kerry in Ireland, and north-western Spain (stock image)
HOW DO MICROPLASTICS GET INTO THE OCEANS FROM RIVERS?
Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought, according to scientists looking at pollution in rivers.
Waterways in Greater Manchester are now so heavily contaminated by microplastics that particles are found in every sample – including even the smallest streams.
This pollution is a major contributor to contamination in the oceans, researchers found as part of the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world.
This debris – including microbeads and microfibres – are toxic to ecosystems.
Scientists tested 40 sites around Manchester and found every waterway contained these small toxic particles.
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibres and plastic fragments.
It has long been known they enter river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.
However, although around 90 per cent of microplastic contamination in the oceans is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their movements.
Most rivers examined had around 517,000 plastic particles per square metre, according to researchers from the University of Manchester who carried out the detailed study.
Following a period of major flooding, the researchers re-sampled at all of the sites.
They found levels of contamination had fallen at the majority of them, and the flooding had removed about 70 per cent of the microplastics stored on the river beds.
This demonstrates that flood events can transfer large quantities of microplastics from urban river to the oceans.