Increasing ice melt due to climate change will likely release the even-higher concentrations of plastic trapped in Arctic ice into the sea, and thus into the food chain, the new report in Earth’s Future said. “The environmental consequences of microplastic fragments are not fully understood, but they are clearly ingested by a wide range of marine organisms including commercially important species,” the report said.
The term “microplastics” refers to tiny particles created as plastic
materials that break down but never biodegrade. They are being
increasingly found on surface waters and shorelines around the world.
Plastic materials are introduced to the ocean by various means,
including from cosmetic ingredients known as microbeads, from the
release of semi-synthetic fibers such as rayon from washing machines,
and from larger discarded plastic items. The plastics reach the sea via
sewers, rivers, and littering along coastlines or at sea.
Researchers said in the new report that Arctic ice contains such high
concentrations of plastics because of the way sea ice forms. It
concentrates particulates from the surrounding waters, and the
particulates become trapped until the ice melts. Scientists said in the
report that they found 38-234 plastic particles per cubic meter of ice
in some parts of the Artic areas they studied.
In the next decade the scientists predict that at least 2,000
trillion cubic meters of Arctic ice will melt. If that ice contains the
lowest concentrations of microplastics reported in the study, this could
result in the release of more than 1 trillion pieces of plastic, the
Researchers worry that a wide range of organisms could ingest the microplastics, leading to physical injury and poisoning.
Plastic products often contain potentially harmful additives to make
them last longer, the report said. Other studies have shown that small
fragments of plastic can act a bit like magnets, attracting pollutants from the environment and making them even more toxic.
shown that tiny plastic “microbeads,” added to many body cleansers and
toothpastes, have been found in major lakes and other waterways used for
drinking water. The studies said the plastic balls absorb toxic
chemicals released into the environment, and are then eaten by fish and
thus introduced into the food chain.
Mass production of plastic began in the 1940s, and by 2009 at least 230 million tons of plastic were produced each year – equivalent to the weight of a double-decker bus every two seconds