Four BILLION plastic particles from around the world have been found on the Pacific island

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Four BILLION plastic particles from around the world are found on the beaches of a remote Pacific island 3,000 miles from the nearest continent

  • Researchers from the Natural History Museum visited remote Henderson Island twice
  • They found billions of pieces of plastic in the sand on the Pacific island
  • None of the plastic came from the desert island or local inhabited islands
  • Microplastics have increased by an order of magnitude from just over two grams per square meter in 2015 to 23 grams per square meter between 2015 and 2019

Billions of pieces of plastic from around the world have washed up in the sand of a remote Pacific island, despite being 3,000 miles from the nearest continent.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum discovered the plastic in the top two inches of sand on Henderson Island, one of four that make up the Pitcairn Islands.

The discovery shocked the team, who first visited the uninhabited island 5,000 miles from South America in 2015, to investigate the prevalence of plastic.

They returned in 2019 and found that the amount of plastic increased from 2 grams per square meter when they checked in 2015 to more than 23 grams per square meter.

They found the island’s three beaches covered in trash and debris that had traveled hundreds of miles in powerful ocean currents from every part of the earth.

Billions of pieces of plastic from around the world have washed up in the sand of a remote Pacific island, despite being 3,000 miles from the nearest continent.

Billions of pieces of plastic from around the world have washed up in the sand of a remote Pacific island, despite being 3,000 miles from the nearest continent.

Henderson Island is a remote landmass as part of the Pitcairn Islands and is located more than 3,000 miles from the nearest continent

Henderson Island is a remote landmass as part of the Pitcairn Islands and is located more than 3,000 miles from the nearest continent

Henderson Island is a remote landmass as part of the Pitcairn Islands and is located more than 3,000 miles from the nearest continent

Dr. Alex Bond, the study’s senior author, said much of the trash found on the island – within two inches of the sand – was not new.

The team discovered toys that were first released in the 80s and 90s among the pollution on the beach, Bond said, adding that “ plastic can stay in the ocean for a long time and then end up on the beach. ”

This was alarming because Henderson Island was thought to be one of the last remaining untouched places on Earth, free from human contact.

To that extent, its remoteness has given it UNESCO World Heritage status.

“Pitcairn is the only island inhabited with a human population, but the waste is not from there,” explains Dr. Bond.

‘We found pieces of plastic from Europe, Africa, North America, South America and Asia. They end up in the oceans and are bought here. ‘

The sources of plastic pollution vary widely from fishing practices, agriculture and human activities on beaches.

However, much plastic pollution comes from leaks in waste disposal systems. Wastewater disposal is poor at filtering microplastics before the wastewater enters waterways that communicate with the oceans.

They found the island's three beaches covered in trash and debris that had traveled hundreds of miles in powerful ocean currents from every part of the earth.

They found the island's three beaches covered in trash and debris that had traveled hundreds of miles in powerful ocean currents from every part of the earth.

They found the island’s three beaches covered in trash and debris that had traveled hundreds of miles in powerful ocean currents from every part of the earth.

Natural History Museum researchers discovered the plastic in the top two inches of sand on Henderson Island, one of four that make up the Pitcairn Islands

Natural History Museum researchers discovered the plastic in the top two inches of sand on Henderson Island, one of four that make up the Pitcairn Islands

Natural History Museum researchers discovered the plastic in the top two inches of sand on Henderson Island, one of four that make up the Pitcairn Islands

Dr. Bond said plastic pollution is a global problem and needs to be addressed at a cooperative and global level.

‘I think we will slowly see a shift from cleaning up plastic to treating it like other contaminants like lead and mercury, which we know will persist in the environment for millennia.

‘Then it becomes important how we deal with it.’

The study of the distribution of the size and amount of plastic on a remote island in the South Pacific is published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin

WHAT FURTHER RESEARCH IS NEEDED TO ASSESS THE DISTRIBUTION AND EFFECT OF MICROPLASTICS?

The World Health Organization’s 2019 report ‘Microplastics in Drinking Water’ outlined numerous areas for future research that could shed light on how far the problem of microplastic pollution is, how it can affect human health and what can be done to prevent these particles from entering our water supplies.

How widespread are microplastics?

The following research would clarify the occurrence of microplastics in drinking water and fresh water sources:

  • More data is needed on the occurrence of microplastics in drinking water in order to adequately assess human exposure via drinking water.
  • Research into the occurrence of microplastics should use quality-assured methods to determine the number, shape, size and composition of the particles found. They must verify whether the microplastics originate from the freshwater environment or from the extraction, treatment, distribution or bottling of drinking water. Initially, this research should focus on drinking water that is believed to have the greatest risk of particulate matter pollution.
  • Drinking water research could usefully be complemented by better fresh water data to quantify fresh water supplies and identify key sources. This may require the development of reliable methods of tracing origin and identifying sources.
  • A set of standard methods is required for sampling and analyzing microplastics in drinking water and fresh water.
  • There is a significant knowledge gap in the understanding of nanoplastics in the aquatic environment. A first step to close this gap is to develop standard methods for sampling and analyzing nanoplastics.

What are the health implications of microplastics?

While water treatment can be effective in removing particles, there is limited data specific to microplastics. To support risk assessment and management options for human health, the following data gaps related to water treatment need to be addressed:

  • More research is needed to understand the fate of microplastics in different wastewater and drinking water treatment processes (such as purification processes and oxidation) under different operational conditions, including optimal and sub-optimal performance and the influence of particle size, shape and chemical composition on disposal efficiency .
  • There is a need for a better understanding of the composition of the particles before and after water treatment, including in distribution systems. The role of microplastic degradation and wear in water treatment systems, as well as the microplastic contribution of the processes themselves, must be considered.
  • More knowledge is needed to understand the presence and removal of nanoplastic particles in water and wastewater treatment processes once standard methods for nanoplastics become available.
  • There is a need for a better understanding of the relationships between turbidity (and particle numbers) and microplastic concentrations during the treatment processes.
  • Research is needed to understand the significance of the potential return of microplastics to the environment through sludge and other waste streams from treatment.

To better understand microplastic-associated biofilms and their meaning, the following research could be conducted:

  • Further studies could be conducted on the factors influencing the composition and possible specificity of microplastic-associated biofilms.
  • Studies could also look at the factors that influence biofilm formation on plastic surfaces, including microplastics, and how these factors vary for different plastic materials, and which organisms are more likely to bind to plastic surfaces in freshwater systems.
  • Research could be done to better understand the ability of microplastics to transport pathogenic bacteria downstream for greater distances, the rate of degradation in freshwater systems, and the relative abundance and transport capacity of microplastics compared to other particles.
  • Research could look at the risk of horizontal transfer of antimicrobial resistance genes in plastisphere microorganisms compared to other biofilms, such as those found in WWTPs.

Can water treatment prevent microplastics from entering our water supplies?

While water treatment can be effective in removing particles, there is limited data specific to microplastics. To support risk assessment and management options for human health, the following data gaps related to water treatment need to be addressed:

  • More research is needed to understand the fate of microplastics in different wastewater and drinking water treatment processes (such as purification processes and oxidation) under different operational conditions, including optimal and sub-optimal performance and the influence of particle size, shape and chemical composition on disposal efficiency .
  • There is a need for a better understanding of the composition of the particles before and after water treatment, including in distribution systems. The role of microplastic degradation and wear in water treatment systems, as well as the microplastic contribution of the processes themselves, must be considered.
  • More knowledge is needed to understand the presence and removal of nanoplastic particles in water and wastewater treatment processes once standard methods for nanoplastics become available.
  • There is a need for a better understanding of the relationships between turbidity (and particle numbers) and microplastic concentrations during the treatment processes.
  • Research is needed to understand the significance of the potential return of microplastics to the environment through sludge and other waste streams from treatment.

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