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‘Plastic Is Lethal’: Groundbreaking Report Reveals Health Risks at Every Stage in Plastics Life Cycle
With eight million metric tons of plastic entering the world's oceans every year, there is growing concern about the proliferation of plastics in the environment. Despite this, surprisingly little is known about the full impact of plastic pollution on human health.
But a first-of-its-kind study released Tuesday sets out to change that. The study, Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, is especially groundbreaking because it looks at the health impacts of every stage in the life cycle of plastics, from the extraction of the fossil fuels that make them to their permanence in the environment. While previous studies have focused on particular products, manufacturing processes or moments in the creation and use of plastics, this study shows that plastics pose serious health risks at every stage in their production, use and disposal.
"The heavy toxic burdens associated with plastic—at every stage of its life cycle—offers another convincing argument why reducing and not increasing production of plastics is the only way forward," report co-author and Break Free From Plastic Movement (BFFP) Global Coordinator Von Hernandez said in a press release. "It is shocking how the existing regulatory regime continues to give the whole plastic industrial complex the license to play Russian roulette with our lives and our health. Plastic is lethal, and this report shows us why."
The report was a joint effort by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, UPSTREAM and BFFP. It explains in depth how each stage in the plastics life cycle puts human health at risk.
1. "Extraction and Transport of Fossil Feedstocks for Plastic": The extraction of the oil and gas needed to make plastic releases toxic chemicals into the air and water. The chemicals used to produce plastic feedstock via fracking are particularly dangerous: More than 170 of them can cause documented health problems including cancer and damage to the nervous and immune systems.
2. "Refining and Production of Plastic Resins and Additives": The process of refining fossil fuels into plastic resin releases toxic chemicals into the air that can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, among other issues. Industrial workers and communities near refineries are especially at risk.
3. "Consumer Products and Packaging": Plastic products themselves can harm their users both in the form of microplastics that break off from the larger product and chemicals contained in the product that can cause cancer and developmental problems, as well as disrupt the hormone system.
4. "Toxic Releases from Plastic Waste Management": Every method for eliminating plastic waste, such as incineration and gasification, releases acid gases, organic substances like dioxins and furans and toxic metals like lead and mercury into the air, soil and water. This is also particularly dangerous for plant workers and surrounding communities.
5. "Fragmenting and Microplastics": As plastics break down, they release tiny fragments into the environment that humans can swallow or inhale. Doing so can cause problems like inflammation, genotoxicity, oxidative stress, apoptosis and necrosis, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other potentially deadly or chronic ailments.
6. "Cascading Exposure as Plastic Degrades": The chemicals added to plastics easily spread into the surrounding environment as the plastic breaks down, posing an ever-increasing risk to water, soil or body tissue where plastic is present.
7. "Ongoing Environmental Exposure": Plastic degrading in the ocean or on land builds up in the food chain as it is ingested by larger and larger animals. The plastic both leaches the chemicals it already contained into the environment and accumulates other toxic chemicals present in the environment as it works its way up the food chain.
In order to combat the problem, the report recommends treating plastic exposure as a human rights issue, making sure every stage in the plastic life cycle is addressed, drafting laws that require accurate information about what goes into plastics during all stages of production, ensuring transparency in the development of solutions and making sure that solutions take into account the global reach of plastic production and proliferation.
Other organizations who work on plastic pollution have praised the report for its in-depth investigation of the crisis."This new report provides further evidence of plastic's detrimental effects on a global scale—and it's more personal than ever," Oceana chief policy officer Jacqueline Savitz said in a statement. "Plastic is impacting human health through every single stage of its life cycle, from extraction and production to consumer use, and it is entering our food chain. The risks to human health begin long before plastic even makes it onto store shelves, providing yet another reason why waste-management efforts alone can't reverse this crisis. We need companies to take responsibility for plastic's effects on our health and the environment, stop wasting time with false solutions and turn to sustainable alternatives to plastic before it's too late."
- Pediatricians Warn Against Using Plastic Numbers 3, 6, 7 - EcoWatch ›
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
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.