The Interconnectedness of Water Pollution: Plastics

970 words | 4 page(s)

The environment supports all ecosystems and life functions on the planet, yet, mankind continues to abuse this fragile element under the notion that the behaviors of one individual does not impact the entirety of all life. Recently, an understanding as to the interconnectedness of the planet has challenged this presumptuous notion and placed a much needed emphasis on the responsibilities of each individual to the protection of the planet. For the purpose of clarifying this individual responsibility, the following report will assess the manner in which water pollution with a special emphasis on plastics in the water impact all of the elements of the planet.

Summary of Environmental Issue
According to Thompson et al. (2004) millions of metric tons of various plastics are manufactured and disposed of annually. The disposal of these items, whether initial or accidentally, often finds placement in the water ways. Tibbetts (2015) explains that this is often in the form of fishing nets or lures that are lost by sportsman in what is referred to as “marine plastics,” while Seltenrich (2015) notes that many consumer products such as water bottles and plastic bags or containers are often found in the water ways. Additionally, many larger items have been found at the bottom of the ocean, interfering with the natural habitats of the marine life (Thompson et al., 2004).

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While there are many obvious concerns related to the plastics in the waterways such as the consumption of the items by the marine life, changes in the natural habitat, and the potential for the marine life to be caught in the debris, there is also a concern as to the smaller particles and the presence of the chemical, BPA in the water and the marine life (Seltenrich, 2015). This, and other chemicals, have been under scrutiny in the health of mankind for quite some time and recently, the realization that the plastics continue to house these chemicals after disposal in the waterways has raised a lot of concern about the long term effects on the ecosystem, water, and consequently, the human life across the globe (Seltenrich, 2015). To further expand upon this interconnectedness, this report will show how one piece of plastic lost in the ocean can affect all of these elements across the globe.

When a piece of plastic is thrown into the water, one might assume that it will land in the bottom of the sea at that particular location and, should it have any negative implications, those would remain in that location. However, this report will show that it is not only the physical location that is effected due to the chemicals released into the waterways.

According to Seltenrich (2015), consumer plastics release chemicals such as BPA into the water as well as the chemicals found in additives such as flame retardants and antimicrobials. Even if the physical placement of the plastics do not change, these released chemicals can then be transferred with the currents and be found around the globe. While the levels of these chemicals as they are dispersed in the water is still being studied, it has been determined that the chemicals have been found absent the presence of physical plastics in the area (Thompson, et al., 2004). In other words, the chemicals travel far beyond the place where the original contaminant entered into the waterways. Even if only one piece of plastic had entered into the waterways, all water would eventually be altered by the presence of these chemicals.

As the water is altered, the plant life begins to absorb these chemicals and the marine life then, through consuming this plant life, is then contaminated through consumption. That is, of course, if the particular plant life is not destroyed by the introduction of foreign chemicals (Seltenrich, 2015). When a particular food source becomes unable to support the marine life, other food sources must be sought which, in turn, places that food source at risk of extinction. Scarcity either forces the marine life to move to other locations or become extinct itself. This cycle can continue until either a region is absent of marine life or the competition for food becomes so great that other species also become at risk. The balance of the ecosystem is, therefore, offset by the presence of plastic related chemicals.

Human Life
With the contamination of the marine life and imbalance of the ecosystem, human life is then negatively impacted by the plastics in waterways. The food sources, should they remain, are being studied for the levels of these chemicals and the potential health risks to human beings (Seltenrich, 2015). Additionally, many coastal areas are experiencing a decrease in this available source of food as the ecosystem is endanger (Tibbetts, 2015). In short, whatever food is available from the waterways is likely to be contaminated and many food sources are simply no longer available or safe to eat. Human beings who consume contaminated seafood stand the risk of negative health effects based on the plastics that entered the waterways somewhere around the planet.

One piece of plastic can alter the entirety of the waterways, biodiversity, and human life, but the research shows that it is not just one piece of plastic has caused the magnitude of this problem. Around the world, plastics are either intentionally or accidentally entering the waterways and it is now known that the very chemicals that are directly under scrutiny for their impacts on human health, are indirectly having the same effects through the introduction to the waterways.

  • Seltenrich, N. (2015). New Link in the Food Chain?. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(2),
    A34-41 1p. doi:10.1289/ehp.123-A34
  • Thompson, R. C., Olsen, Y., Mitchell, R. P., Davis, A., Rowland, S. J., John, A. G., & … Russell, A. E. (2004). Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?. Science, 304(5672), 838.
  • Tibbetts, J. H. (2015). Managing Marine Plastic Pollution. Environmental Health
    Perspectives, 123(4), A90-A93. doi:10.1289/ehp.123-A90

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