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Home > Lifestyle News > Nature And Wildlife News > Article > Cyclone dumps tonnes of microplastic debris onto Versova beach experts raise concerns

Cyclone dumps tonnes of microplastic debris onto Versova beach, experts raise concerns

Updated on: 14 June,2023 04:15 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Ainie Rizvi |

Microplastics have infiltrated the city's beaches as the sea reverts muck back due to cyclone Biparjoy. Environmentalists break down how plastic debris is entering the food chain and suggest measures to mitigate the challenges

Cyclone dumps tonnes of microplastic debris onto Versova beach, experts raise concerns

Plastic garbage spread over at Versova beach, Andheri (West) in Mumbai on June 12. PIC/SATEJ SHINDE

Owing to the severe cyclone Biparjoy, the Arabian Sea has dumped back tonnes of plastic waste back onto Versova beach. The beach remains blanketed with muck, plastic debris, metallic waste as well as microplastics. Experts share concerns over the rising incidence of plastic waste in water bodies that also risks human and marine life.

Microplastics have infiltrated Earth at the depths of the Mariana Trench and reached the heights of Mount Everest. Tiny pieces of plastic debris have been found buried under the Antarctic Sea and the drinking water around the globe. It has permeated into the guts of marine animals and travelled into human bodies. Researchers have revealed that traces of microplastics have also been found in human blood.

It is no surprise that microplastics have penetrated the food chain and are gradually seeping into edible food. How does it affect the consumer and can we prevent it from entering our very plates? To find out, Midday Online spoke to distinguished researchers in the field of plastic studies, environmentalists, and nutritionists.

How do microplastics get absorbed by aquatic life?
Although microplastic pollution can now be found almost anywhere, ocean surfaces and seashores have the highest concentrations of microplastics. Plastic pollution on beaches and rivers has resulted in plastic debris eventually reaching the oceanic ecosystem and becoming a permanent part of it because it never degrades, remarked Aditya Pratap Singh, a research scholar who is devising practical ways to mitigate plastic pollution in water bodies.

PET bottles and polyethylene bags are already proven to damage aquatic life, but microplastics are now exponentially increasing the risk. Microplastics on the ocean surface are ingested by various forms of aquatic animals. These microplastics stay inside their bodies and can lead to suffocation or even death.

A study in 2019 has shown that microplastics on the ocean surface also adsorb on the surfaces of specific microalgae and travel down to the ocean bed as the coagulate becomes larger and denser. This expands the threat to even deep-sea animals. Multiple fish and turtles discovered after fishing or on sea beaches were found to be full of microplastics that they had ingested throughout their lives, which was also likely the cause of their deaths.

What happens when humans unknowingly ingest microplastics?
Singh is of the opinion that the problem of microplastics in our bodies is bigger than it seems. It might look like the microplastics we eat would get excreted just like any other toxicant. But apparently, that is not the case with these little kittens. Scientists are continuously studying the topic, and recent studies confirmed the presence of microplastics in the human digestive tract, blood, and even the human placenta.

Being smaller than a micron, these microplastic particles can diffuse through the cell membrane and enter muscle or blood tissues. Also, the continuous ingestion of microplastic at the present rate leads to biomagnification and will eventually cause inflammatory reactions. As a result, while consuming microplastics may not have immediate health consequences, it can cause significant harm to human health in the long run.

“It can lead to serious health conditions ranging from cardiovascular issues to the formation of a tumour, eventually leading to cancer. Scientists are involved in finding ways to combat this issue of microplastics. The size of these pollutants makes it difficult to identify them and subsequently filter them”, added Singh.

Environmentalist Nikhil Kaushik shares that it is difficult to establish long-term effects on humans.  In his opinion, microplastics could potentially become carriers for heavy metals which could in turn have severe effects on human health. Why such a study is difficult is the widespread presence of microplastics in practically everything we use, making it difficult to isolate the effect of a specific exposure from other possible causes of exposure.

What are the ways to mitigate the damaging effects of microplastics?
One of the key things to understand is that we already know plastics do not degrade easily. They would survive for thousands of years, and we are yet to know a lot about the harmful effects of microplastics present in our ecosystem. Environmentalist Pariksha Rao lists down actionable items to reduce the damages caused by microplastics:

1. Avoid single-use plastic and other synthetic plastics like nylon, polyethylene, polyester, etc.

2. Avoid cosmetics that contain plastic elements.

3. Reduce shellfish consumption.

4. Don’t microwave your food in plastic.

5. Dust and vacuum your indoors regularly.

6. As much as possible, resort to recycling.

How can microplastic pollution be eradicated?
Singh urges that the greater goal for the eradication of microplastics should be taking steps to prevent plastic pollution. The use of recyclable plastics should be promoted, and litter on beaches must be prevented. New policies can be introduced to encourage people to gradually shift to no plastic usage.

On a personal level, a person can try to avoid using plastic bottles for drinking water because they corrode from the inside over time and the person can ingest massive amounts of microplastics.

Rao shares industrial ways to reduce microplastic pollution:

1. Improve the production efficiency of plastic by using biodegradable plastic and banning single-use plastics.

2. Life cycle assessments of production: packaging of larger sizes, and lower weights, with increased reusability and recyclability; use of lower-energy intensive materials; and eco-friendly means of transportation and efficient shipping configurations

3. Reducing consumption of plastic: Avoiding unnecessary packaging or choosing eco-friendlier alternatives.

4. Increasing awareness of environmental impacts of consumer choices through formal (i.e., in schools) or informal (e.g., news, clean-ups) education.

5. Improving the disposing of waste through door-to-door collection, with or without fees; curbside collection; and buy-back centres (buying litter) or drop-off centres.

6. Recycling waste through the collection of separated waste by consumers; separation of recyclables and elimination of contaminants; grounding and segregation by polymer and colour.

7. Waste to energy conversion (production of steam, heat, electricity, or fuel from waste)

Also Read: Mumbai: Heat to stay despite pre-monsoon spells

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