Plastic Free Waters: Microplastics and Human Health Meeting

Barent Roth of the New School, Phoebe Stapleton of Rutgers University, Scott Fallon of the Bergen Record and Lisa Kaas Boyle of the Plastic Pollution Coalition come together to discuss the dangers of microplastics to both the natural environment and human health, and answer questions on the future of microplastics at our November Partnership Meeting.

Last week (12 November, 2019) PFWP held a meeting at the New School. Titled ‘Microplastics and Human Health’, which featured experts on plastics, microplastics and their impact on human health from a variety of professional backgrounds.

Professor Barent Roth of the New School, professor at the Parsons School of Design‘s BFA Product Design and MFA Industrial Design programs.

Lisa Kaas Boyle is an environmental attorney and founder/activist from the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Scott Fallon is an investigative reporter who has covered the environment at The Bergen Record since 2008, concentrating on the legacy of industrial pollution in New Jersey.

Dr. Phoebe Stapleton, an Assistant Professor in the Rutgers University, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and the Joint Graduate Program in Toxicology.

Moderating the event was Catie Tobin, who is the Microplastics Researcher for Clean Ocean Action (COA).

Speaker Presentations:

Microplastics Updates October 2019

Journal Articles

Wetland soil microplastics are negatively related to vegetation cover and stem density

First evidence of microplastic contamination in the supraglacial debris of an alpine glacier

Microplastics from mulching film is a distinct habitat for bacteria in farmland soil

River Deltas as hotspots of microplastic accumulation: The case study of the Ebro River (NW Mediterranean)

Chemical and physical changes of microplastics during sterilization by chlorination

Effects of microplastics on greenhouse gas emissions and the microbial community in fertilized soil

Average daily flow of microplastics through a tertiary wastewater treatment plant over a ten-month period

Phytoplankton response to polystyrene microplastics: Perspective from an entire growth period

In the News

The biggest source of microplastics in California coastal waters? Car tires

You’re literally eating microplastics. How you can cut down exposure to them.

Microplastics have invaded the food supply

Hunting for microplastics in your seafood

Scientists piece together microplastics problem in Monterey Bay

New evidence points to microplastics’ toxic impact on the human body

Tracing the Journey of Microplastics in the Arctic

Researchers study microplastics in marine mammals


Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Toronto, Canada (11/03-11/07)

UN Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Santiago, Chile (12/02-12/13)

15th World Convention on Waste Recycling and Reuse – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (02/21/20-02/22/20)

Employment Opportunities

OCEANA – Communications Officer

PlasticBank – Various Positions

Microplastics Updates September 2019

Journal articles

Effects of microplastics on wastewater and sewage sludge treatment and their removal: A review

An interlaboratory comparison exercise for the determination of microplastics in standard sample bottles

Fusion of microplastics into the mussel byssus

Microplastics as vectors of contaminants

Microplastic pollution on the Persian Gulf shoreline: A case study of Bandar Abbas city, Hormozgan Province, Iran

Distribution and impacts of microplastic incorporation within sea ice

Occurrence of tire wear particles and other microplastics within the tributaries of the Charleston Harbor Estuary, South Carolina, USA

A study on characteristics of microplastic in wastewater of South Korea: Identification, quantification, and fate of microplastics during treatment process

In the news

Microplastics in the Great Lakes: Becoming benthic

Tampa Bay contains 4 billion bits of microplastic, shocking study indicates

New technique can show link between prey and microplastics

WHO says microplastics in water not a health risk, more research needed

Microplastics may now affect how Arctic sea ice forms and melts

Microplastics in freshwater are mostly laundry lint

Microplastics turning up in human stool

Other Plastic News

Brands asked to pay premium for using new plastic

Plastic teabags release microscopic particles into tea

3 ways we are making an impact on plastic pollution

Brands ask consumers for behavior change to reverse the problem with plastics

Conferences (chronological)

6th World Congress on Green Chemistry and Recycling – Seoul, South Korea (10/14-10/15)

Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Toronto, Canada (11/03-11/07)

UN Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Santiago, Chile (12/02-12/13)

15th World Convention on Waste Recycling and Reuse – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (02/21/20-02/22/20)

Job Opportunities

5 Gyres – Development and Partnerships Manager 

Partnership Meeting With Surfrider, Lonely Whale, and Harbor Estuary Program

Partnership Updates:

Sarah Edwards -Eunomia/PFWP, Rosana da Silva – Harbor Estuary Program, Pamela Pettyjohn – Coney Island Beautification Project, Jordan Christensen – Citizens Campaign, Laura Rosenshine – Food Print Group give updates on the recent actions and progress of their respective organizations to reduce plastic waste

Panel Discussion: Rosana da Silva – Harbor Estuary Program, Matt Gove – Surfrider, Emy Kane – Lonely Whale

Rosana da Silva of Harbor Estuary Program, Matt Gove of Surfrider and Emy Kane of Lonely Whale sit down to discuss and answer questions on the future of single-use plastics at our June Partnership Meeting.

Panelist Presentations

Harbor Estuary Program Presentation

Surfrider Presentation

Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution

By: Judith S. Weis

About a year ago, the network of former AAAS Policy Fellows was discussing a call for session proposals for the 2019 AAAS meeting, the theme of which was going to be interdisciplinarity – “Science Transcending Boundaries.” I had long been thinking that environmental scientists concerned about microplastics needed to interact with textile, materials, and fiber scientists, because the vast majority of microplastics in the environment are microfibers, which come off synthetic clothing in washing machines. I know that environmental scientists can find and describe the problem, but we do not have the skills to solve them. Textile scientists have the skills to re-engineer synthetic clothing so that they won’t shed (as many) microfibers.

I proposed this idea to the group, and it was received with enthusiasm. Margaret Murphy, another former fellow, who had spent her fellowship with EPA working on the microplastics issue agreed to organize it with me.

The proposal “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” was accepted by AAAS for the meeting. Its description was as follows:

Plastic pollution caused by human activities is everywhere. Beaches covered with plastic bottles, bags, and straws attest to the problem. Microplastics, tiny pieces ranging from a few millimeters to microns in size, are less obvious, but ubiquitous. They have various sources, but the most abundant type in many areas are microfibers from synthetic textiles such as polyester, which can shed thousands of fibers when used or machine-washed. Many of these fibers are too tiny to be trapped in filters and they flow into sewage systems. Some are trapped by sewage treatment plants, but many enter aquatic systems where they number in the trillions or quadrillions. As they are plastic, they do not readily break down. Found everywhere, even in the deepest parts of the ocean, microplastics can attract chemical pollutants from the water and may be eaten by plankton and larger filter feeders such as clams and oysters. Microfibers and their attached pollutants are passed through food webs, and evidence is growing that eating microplastic harms the health of marine animals. The solution to microfiber pollution may lie in short- and long-term approaches: better filtration systems and the design of synthetic fabrics that do not shed fibers, or switching to natural or biosynthetic alternatives. This session brings together environmental scientists who study microplastic pollution and textile scientists who are developing new synthetic fabrics to discuss the problem and proposed solutions.

The final panel consisted of:

·      Dr. Chelsea Rochman, of the University of Toronto   (a “rock star” of microplastic research) Chelsea presented general information about microplastic sources, fates and effects, focusing on microfibers;

·      Dr. Melik Demirel, a materials scientist at Penn State spoke about the biosynthetic fiber he developed called Squitex, which is comparable to the silk found in squid ring teeth. Squitex, made from squid teeth proteins, is self-healing and completely biodegradable the protein; and

·      Sarah Edwards, Director of Eunomia Research & Consulting and Vice President of PWFP who explained a range of policy measures that could be used to reduce microplastics release including:

o   Development of standard test measure to quantify the release of microfibers from clothing;

o   Setting limits of microfiber release effectively leading to garments that shed the most being removed from the market;

o   Extended Producer Responsibility based funding for measures to capture microfibers in the washing machine or as a last resort in the programs to cover the cost

The session had a large interested audience with excellent questions and discussion, making it a huge success.

Following the session, the PR office of Penn State sent out some press releases about Melik Demirels’s work, which were picked up by a number of outlets, for example: This is the sort of research that can lead to solutions.

The AAAS meeting was the start of a discussion that should continue. Only through multidisciplinary cooperation can the issue of microplastics begin to be tackled.

Microplastics Updates, March 2019

Journal Articles

Marine microfiber pollution: a review on present status and future challenges 

Microplastics occurrence in edible fish species (Mullus barbatus and Merluccius merluccius) collected in three different geographical subareas of the Mediterranean Sea 

Evaluation of microplastic ingestion by tropical fish from Moorea Island, French Polynesia 

Depuration reduces microplastic content in wild and farmed mussels 

Ingestion and effects of micro- and nano plastics in blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) larvae 

Presence and characterization of microplastics in fish of commercial importance from the Biobio region in central Chile 

Preliminary study and first evidence of presence of microplastics and colorants in green mussel, Perna viridis (Linnaeus, 1758), from southeast coast of India 

Development and validation of an efficient method for processing microplastics in biota samples 

In the news

PE, PP and PS: the most abundant type of microplastics in Mediterranean coastal waters 

Microplastic polluting rivers and seas across the globe, says new research P

Microplastics are most common waste found along Mediterranean coast, study says 

Are natural fibers really better for the environment than microplastic fibers?

Start of scientific research into the health risks of microplastics: does plastic make us sick?

Sea anemones are ingesting plastic microfibers 

Other Plastic News

Scientist discover new mineral icicles, dead mollusks, plastic at the bottom of the Great Blue Hole P

Balloons the number 1 marine debris risk of mortality for seabirds 

New warnings on plastic’s health risks as fracking industry promotes new ‘plastics belt’ build-out

Plastics reach remote pristine environments, scientists say 

Conferences (chronological) S

Impacts of Microplastics in the Urban Environment Conference (Rutgers NJ) (3/28 – 3/29)

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great Lakes Research (6/10 – 6/14) 

Ocean Heroes Bootcamp (6/28 – 6/30)

Environmental Conference in Cuba (7/1-7/5) 

Job Opportunities

5 Gyres – Development and Partnerships Manager 

Microplastics Updates, February 2019

In the news

Shellfish like mussels avoid ingesting most microplastics, research finds 

Mussels lose grip when exposed to microplastics – study 

New study finds plastic in 50 dead whales, dolphins, seals I

Marine scientists find toxic bacteria on microplastics retrieved from tropical waters 

Britain’s grey seal colony hotspots threatened by microplastics 

Pathogenic bacteria found on microplastics retrieved from Singapore’s Beaches

Singapore beaches hounded by microplastics with pathogenic bacteria 

EU proposes ban on 90% of microplastic pollutants 


Toward an ecotoxicological risk assessment of microplastics: comparison of available hazard and exposure data in freshwaters 

Microplastic contamination in an urban estuary: abundance and distribution of microplastics and fish larvae in the Douro estuary 


AAAS Annual Meeting (2.14 – 2.17) – Scientific Session “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” 

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great Lakes Research

AAAS Annual Meeting (2.14 – 2.17) – Scientific Session “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” 

Environmental Conference in Cuba (7/1-7/5) 

Impacts of Microplastics in the Urban Environment Conference (Rutgers NJ) 

IAGLR’s annual Conference on Great

Other Microplastics Resources 

International Joint Commission 

Frank News – January special on Plastics 

Working Group Updates and News from the November 13, 2018 Plastic Free Waters Partnership Meeting

Plastic Bag Work Group

Jordan Christensen reports that the Bag Work Group’s current focus is on supporting education and outreach in areas that are currently in the process of introducing or considering legislation on plastic bags. This includes identifying how to get bills off the ground, including the key environmental and economic talking points. The group has also identified other types of plastic bag outreach and education actions that could be transferable to other areas.   This includes ideas like”take a bag leave a bag”, getting reusable bags for delivery at restaurants included in bag bills, and incentive programs for people who bring their own bag. Efforts like these could help supplement policy with education and engagement.


Messaging Group

Lisa Ruggero reports that the Messaging Group is working on a half-page flyer for partnership members to use when they are at public events to spread the word about the Plastic Free Waters Partnership. The flyer’s call-to-action is going to center on how to join the partnership and why. The flyer will include the Plastic Free Waters”hashtag”. The flyer will be finalized in 1 month of the October meeting.

The messaging group is also working to align messaging strategy with specific materials, based on the workgroup activities.  A different material will be the focus of social media and messaging strategy each quarter. This will also take into account current legislation— for example, the messaging group will be focusing on the upcoming Styrofoam ban in NYC to align messages and approaches. The messaging group will also produce  reminders and promotional material, such as curated Instagram posts, tweets, and social media templates that can be used by partners. Concurrently, the messaging group is identifying ways to tout the success of partner members and highlight achievements. 

Microplastics Work Group

Catie Tobin of the Microplastics working group reports that they will be implementing a survey for people working on the issue of microplastics to best identify the short and long term priorities.

Balloon Task Force

Dini Checko reports that the Balloon Task Force is looking for members. Clean Ocean Action, a PFW partner, has found an uptick in the amount of balloon pieces collected. Virginia Clean Waters has also found that there is a large percentage of debris coming from plastic balloons. The first priority for this task force is to put together a communications package that includes facts, resources, and other essential information on the impacts of balloon releases. Balloons could be the next straws, and we need to ensure that people understand the impact of this kind of material

Reusables Task Force

Karen Bray reports that the new Reusables Task Force (formerly the to-go container working group and the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board) will be working specifically on shifting away from single use to-go containers to reusable materials in New York City. There will be five workstreams: 1.) market research 2.) pilot programs in order to show success and feasibility 3.) policy research to identify barriers to policies about this topic 4.) promotions and brand awareness and 5.) partnerships and funding (atthis point premature, still looking at proof of concept).

Straws Work Group

Allison McCarthy reports that the main priority for the Straws group is to develop and distribute a toolkit specifically for  restaurants with resources for taking the first steps to eliminate plastic straws, switch to paper or reusable alternatives (if necessary), and educate customers. The straws work group is also working on how to engage the disability community in conversations about straws, and how to address needs of people living with disabilities. The straws work group is also focusing on ensuring that information and developments, such as engaging new businesses and restaurants,is shared between working groups and PFW member organizations.