Plastic Resin Pellets: Your New Source of DDT and PCB

resin pellets in hand photo

Photo by Paul L. Nettles via Flickr.

When I read a recent article in the Japan Times about "plastic resin pellets," I thought the term sounded familiar, so I searched TreeHugger, and--surprise, surprise--the first few hits were ads for Chinese producers of the stuff. These are tiny pellets that you find in many common products, including something as seemingly harmless as teddy bears. And now, according to the article "Oceans awash in toxic seas of plastic," by Winifred Bird, researchers are finding them all over the place, especially on beaches and in the oceans.Bird reports that Hideshige Takada, professor of organic geochemistry at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, with colleague Yukie Mato and four other Japanese researchers have discovered that these darn pellets suck up a range of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other toxins. And that's not good. As a result, Takada started International Pellet Watch and began tracing the course of these plastic pellets across teh world via global pollution maps.

Plastic resin pellets are round, shiny, and tiny, and if you find them on your local beach, they don't amount to much. But their very structure is so oily and greasy that they suck up all kinds of other pollutants. Ranging in diameter from 1 mm to 5 mm and in color from clear to dingy brown, they're now found on beaches all around the world. According The Japan Times article, to Hideshige Takada says:

Chemicals like PCBs and DDE are very hydrophobic...That means they have a very high affinity for oily materials. Basically, plastics are solid oil. Therefore, plastic pellets accumulate hydrophobic pollutants with a concentration factor that's almost 1 million times (compared to the overall concentration of the chemicals in seawater).

Some pellets are washed up on beaches. Others, however, have been found in the stomachs of sea creatures, including fish, birds, marine mammals and reptiles, and scientists believe some animals may actively select the pellets because they resemble fish eggs.

pcb ddt hideshige takada image

Data from Global Pollution Maps

The article continues with a quote from Theo Colburn, whose books have been translated here and are widely credited for bringing the topic of endocrine disruptors to the fore in Japan and Asia:

"We should be very concerned," says Theo Colborn, founder of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), a U.S.- based organization that focuses on the health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Though these health effects are still the topic of much debate, she says a host of scientific studies have shown that even low-level exposure to endocrine disrupters may be linked to attention- deficit disorder, diabetes, falling fertility rates and more.

Hence Colborn is concerned that if fish eat toxic plastic, those same toxins may be absorbed into the bodies of people who eat the fish. "Endocrine-disrupting chemicals could also interfere with the ability of fish to reproduce," Colborn adds.

Via Japan Times, "Oceans awash in toxic seas of plastic"
More on plastics, pollutants, and our oceans
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"
Sailing the Seven Seas to Study Garbage
Update to Celebs Surf and Bare Feet for Oceans
A Picture is Worth... Surfriders' Catch of the Day
Rokkasho Documentary Screened In Hawaii

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