Plastic Debris, Environmental Chemical Contaminants and Environmental Fate

The long-range transport, persistence and global dynamics of plastic debris are key aspects to understanding the ultimate fate of this material and any potential impacts of plastic debris on marine ecosystems. Because it is now globally accepted that plastic debris accumulates chemical contaminants (Ogata et al. 2009; Teuten et al. 2009), it is also important to understand how plastic debris mediates these same key aspects for environmental chemical contaminants. This then begs questions regarding: (1) how plastic debris fits into environmental fate models for chemical contaminant distribution and (2) how important plastic debris is relative to other media (e.g. water, sediment, biota) in driving processes of chemical distribution in the global oceans.

Chemical contaminants partition onto various environmental media, a process dependent upon the physical and chemical properties of each chemical and the physical and chemical properties of the environmental medium (e.g. sediment, water, organic matter, living biota). These processes, along with the chemical, physical and biological degradation of each chemical contaminant (Sinkonnen et al. 2000), help to determine their environmental fate globally. The addition of plastic to the marine environment adds a novel medium for chemical contaminants to interact with, and thus it is important to understand how plastic debris should be considered in future environmental fate models (Fig. 5.3). This section will discuss plastics as a novel environmental matrix and its potential role in helping to mediate the fate and distribution of chemical contaminants globally. Specifi , this section will discuss plastic debris as a sink and a source for chemical contaminants in the marine environment and how plastic may facilitate the global transport of chemicals in the marine environment and the transport of chemicals into marine foodwebs.

Fig. 5.3 Biomagnification of chemicals up the food chain. The diagram depicts a scenario whereby organic chemicals (e.g. PAHs) from plastic may transfer into lower trophic level organisms (e.g. zooplankton) via ingestion and accumulate at much greater concentrations via biomagnification in higher trophic level organisms (e.g. small fish and sharks), which may ultimately lead to contaminated seafood for humans as a result of plastic contamination in marine foodwebs. The size of the arrows depicts how the body burden (i.e. bioaccumulation of chemicals) may magnify in predators as compared to their prey

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