The insidious invasion of the plastic

L’insidieuse invasion du plastique

Photo: Seyllou Agence France-presse
A bird stands in the middle of a beach of Dakar, Senegal, littered with plastic waste.

The impact of plastic on the environment, in the oceans, in particular, is increasingly documented, but its effect on human health is less. According to a report released Tuesday by the Center for international environmental law (CIEL), the plastic presents a risk to health at all stages of its life cycle and there is an urgent need to reduce the production and consumption.

Based in Switzerland, the SKY is an organization that offers legal services focused on environmental law. It has identified the studies that have looked, over the years, the effects of plastic on health and the environment.

To (re)read

Our folder, “The plastic planet”

The extraction of petrochemicals needed to manufacture the plastic can lead to the release of toxic chemicals in air, water and soil. Several studies have also looked at the health risks of such products as benzene, styrene, toluene and propylene, to the populations living in the vicinity of processing plants and for workers exposed to these products.

The objects of all the days are not safe either, says the SKY, which notes that the impact of the microparticles of plastic and nanoplastique on marine life has received more attention than their effects on human health.

The research tends however to show that these particles are present in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The additives that are added to plastic for, among other things, allow him to withstand heat, or to preserve its color are also shown the finger.

Some of the polymers contained in the plastic can also degrade the contact of food or under the effect of heat and end up in food and drinks. Humans ingest therefore microplastics without their knowledge.

The report of the SKIES cites a study published in 2018 by the medical University of Vienna, who has analyzed the stools of subjects from several countries, including Finland, Italy, Japan, Poland and Russia. All the samples revealed the presence of microplastics.

A recent study on bottled water conducted by the media platform Orb Media in fourteen countries, also revealed that 81% of the water samples tested contained particles of plastic. Other research has demonstrated the presence of microparticles of plastic in the human blood and tissue.

In the end, the methods of plastic disposal such as incineration also produces toxic fumes.

Precautionary principle

The SKY considers, however, that it is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the long-term impacts of plastic on health. Additional studies and independent will be required, said. Even the composition of the plastic is poorly known. These gaps make it difficult to develop effective regulation.

“It will be necessary to adapt and adopt a legal framework to ensure greater transparency with regard to the presence of substances of petrochemical products and manufacturing processes,” one can read in the conclusions of the report.

Governments must consider the issue of plastic in its entirety in order to be able to act effectively, adds one.

The SKY concludes that, because of the uncertainty, it is necessary to apply the precautionary principle and reduce the production and consumption of plastic.

“This report shows that the oceans and the marine animals are not the only ones to suffer from our dependence on plastic,” emphasises Agnès Le Rouzic, a spokesman for the campaign, Oceans and Plastic of Greenpeace Canada.

According to her, it is high time that in Canada, the federal government to act. “We would like the government to prohibit certain types of plastic. Several countries have done, ” she said. “It should empower the companies and look at the items that we use every day and which are now clogging our recycling systems. “

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