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New Report Addresses the Invisible Threat to Ocean Health: The Dual Menace of Toxic Chemical Pollutants and Plastics
(Bali, Indonesia): The comprehensive report, Ocean Pollutants Guide: Toxic Threats to Human and Marine Life, recently released by IPEN and the National Toxics Network (NTN), provides an up-to-date synthesis of data on toxic chemical ocean pollution, including hazardous pesticides, pharmaceuticals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like PCBs, plastics, microplastics, and heavy metals, and exposes their sweeping impacts on marine and human life. A valuable resource for policy makers, the report bridges information gaps between ocean health and chemical safety, and highlights critical policy opportunities for action by bringing simultaneous visibility to the role of invisible toxic chemicals and plastics.
Ocean health is essential for our survival. Yet every day, a toxic cocktail of intentional and unintentional chemical releases, along with a relentless tidal wave of wastes, particularly plastic waste, enters our waterways and the marine environment. This dual and intertwined threat of invisible toxic chemicals, microplastics, and visible plastic debris profoundly endangers human health, marine life and the environment.
“This report will help focus and unify our discussions at the Our Oceans 2018 Conference in Indonesia and beyond. Typically, plastic pollution and oceans are distinct conversations from POPs, contaminated sites and water sources. But the reality is they are deeply interlinked and policy action by necessity must reduce both forms of pollution if we stand a chance to save our oceans,” said Yuyun Ismawati, co-founder of BaliFokus and IPEN Advisor on Mercury and Mining.
The report details how an array of highly persistent chemical pollutants are adversely affecting the reproduction and behavior of marine animals, impacting their immune systems, affecting their ability to respond to disease and reducing their survival. It sheds light on how microplastics in animal digestive system adversely affect health as microplastic exposure can induce oxidative stress (the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body), impacting energy and lipid metabolism, and create neurotoxic effects. From the algae and sea grasses that serve as the “world’s lungs,” to the fish that provide protein sustenance to two-thirds of the world’s population, including most of the world’s poor, the report describes increased marine contamination, increased human exposures, and risk for a host of illnesses, and ecosystem collapse.
“This twin chemical pollution and plastic problem is the toxic bomb dramatically impacting the health of marine ecosystems everywhere,” says report co-author Dr. Mariann Lloyd-Smith, Senior Advisor at National Toxics Network, Senior Policy Advisor at IPEN, and a former member of the UN Expert Group on Climate Change and Chemicals. “We have saturated our ocean with persistent hazardous chemicals that have polluted the deepest and the most remote areas of our oceans and their inhabitants. We need to understand it is not just a crisis of plastic pollution; the toxic stew of chemicals and wastes dumped into our oceans in ever increasing kind and quantity is affecting all life, including our own. In order to develop effective and speedy policy responses, we must urgently address these twin threats.”
“The value of this report can’t be overstated,” said Pamela Miller, IPEN Co-Chair and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), who works with indigenous communities in the Arctic suffering impacts from the chemical and plastics pollution detailed in the report. “We have mountains of research establishing the relationship between specific chemicals and devastating impacts to marine ecosystems and indigenous communities. But alone, each study can’t tell the full story. The Ocean Pollutants Guide illuminates how multiple classes of chemicals interact with plastics in the ocean, how biomagnification of the most hazardous chemicals and heavy metals build up in the bodies of sentinel animals and transfer to humans, and points raises the alarm for urgent action.”
Sea Changing Policy Action
While many countries have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and to reducing consumption of fossil fuels for energy production, the authors point out that chemical and plastics production, which are based on fossil fuels, is accelerating. Any resolution that calls for clean-up of our past pollution must also address current unsustainable levels of consumption, resource extraction, waste production and climate change. The report’s sea-changing policy framework includes policies based on polluter pays, right to know, precautionary principle and social and intergenerational equity.
“Corporations must be held accountable for the harmful chemicals they create. When industry can no longer externalize the costs of their pollution, they will be forced to stop their toxic emissions and clean up their wastes. We have to put an end to recycling that includes hazardous chemicals in plastics. This will also drive sustainable innovation,” says co-author Joanna Immig.
IPEN is network of more than 500 public interest organizations working in 115 countries to reduce and eliminate the harm to human health and the environment from toxic chemicals.
National Toxics Network (NTN) is a community-based network working to ensure a toxics-free future for all. NTN was formed in 1993 and has grown as a regional network giving a voice to community and environmental organizations across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific region.