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First-of-its-Kind Study Points to Higher Levels of Ocean Microplastics
Scientists and environmentalists have raised the alarm about microplastics polluting our oceans. Now, researchers at the University of Manchester have revealed more details of how they might get there.
The first ever catchment-wide microplastic study, published March 12 in Nature Geoscience, assessed microplastic contamination in the sediments of river beds along 40 sites in northwest England. Researchers discovered microplastics in every river bed they studied. But when they returned to the sites after a period of extensive flooding, they found that 70 percent of the microplastics had been washed out to sea.
A graphic, published in the study, shows the concentration of microplastics and microbeads before and after flooding. Nature Geoscience
"We are only beginning to understand the extent of the microplastic contamination problem in the world's rivers. To tackle the problem in the oceans, we have to prevent microplastics entering river channels," Jamie Woodward, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of Manchester, said in a university press release.
On one site along the River Tame, the researchers found 50 percent more microplastic particles than had previously been recorded in one place, The Guardian reported. But the study's implications extend far beyond the Manchester watershed.
Since flooding flushed 43 billion plastic particles out of the studied rivers, researchers concluded that the current five-trillion estimate for plastic particles in the oceans is far too low.
"This is a small to medium sized catchment in the north of England, it is one flood event, it is just one year—there is no way that [five trillion global] estimate is right," Rachel Hurley, another of the study's authors, told The Guardian.
Microplastics are a problem for marine animals, who ingest them by accident. A February study found the particles in 73 percent of 233 fish pulled from the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Humans also consume them once they move up the food chain, though it is still unknown to what degree they impact human health.
While the Manchester study suggests the problem is even greater than previously believed, it also offers the possibility of stopping it at its source. The study's authors recommend stricter regulations monitoring how waste flows into urban rivers.
"[W]e hope that improvements in wastewater management will be put in place in the future," Woodward said.
The UK already took one decisive step against plastic pollution in January, when it banned microbeads, small plastic spheres often used as exfoliants in cosmetics. Microbeads made up a third of the plastics found in the Manchester study, though researchers told The Guardian they might have come from industrial uses not included in the recent ban.
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By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.