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Environment

Ocean Plastics Soak Up Pollutants

ACS Meeting News: Some marine plastic debris attracts more pollutants than lab studies suggest

by Deirdre Lockwood
August 27, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 35

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Credit: Sarah Wheeler
Rochman deploys plastic samples in San Diego Bay.
09035-scicon-Marineplasticscxd.jpg
Credit: Sarah Wheeler
Rochman deploys plastic samples in San Diego Bay.

Some plastic debris in the ocean continues to absorb organic pollutants for months after reaching marine environments, according to a new field study. The findings, which contrast with earlier laboratory studies, could change how researchers assess the effect of plastics on marine animals. When marine creatures eat plastic debris, they consume a cocktail of multiple stressors, including the plastic itself and the pollutants it absorbs, said Chelsea Rochman, a graduate student at San Diego State University. Rochman and colleagues deployed pellets used to make six types of common plastics in the San Diego Bay for up to a year. They retrieved samples at monthly intervals and used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to measure concentrations of more than 50 persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls. Some plastics continued to accumulate these pollutants for months, in contrast with earlier lab studies showing that plastics come to equilibrium with these pollutants over several days. Some types of plastic absorbed 10-fold-higher concentrations of organic pollutants than others, suggesting that some plastics could be more hazardous to fish than others.

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