School Email Exchange

Is there any worry about toxins being emitted from the plastics?

Posted on October 27 2012

Question submitted by Washingtonville High School

There is concern about toxins from plastics entering seawater, although very little research has been done on this topic. However, research has shown that persistent organic pollutants (POPs), toxins that are difficult to break down, already present in seawater can sorb, or "stick", to plastic debris.

We are sampling POPs in the air as well as in the ocean for a scientist at the University of Rhode Island (URI), Dr. Ranier Lohmann.  To sample the toxins in the air, there is a container that looks like an aluminum lettuce bowl attached to the satellite antenna on the aft rail.  To sample POPs in seawater, a passive sampling device is attached to the seawater “flow through” system in the lab, which brings in a constant flow of surface seawater.  As controls, there are also samplers in the galley, lab and engine room.

Assistant scientist Chrissy Dykeman changes the sampler in the POPs (persistant organic pollutants) atmospheric sampler container attached to the satellite antenna on the aft rail.

Fish tissue that has been preserved and stored onboard will be sent to Dr. Lohmann's URI lab where it will be analyzed for POPs.  If there are toxins present, it will be difficult to determine whether they originated from plastic ingested by the fish, from prey ingested by the fish, or from the seawater itself.