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Potential for microplastics to cause harm in the marine environment - ME5416

Recent research has shown that plastic debris is fragmenting in the environment and that microscopic pieces of common polymers including polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride are now present on shorelines worldwide. Production of plastics has grown exponentially in recent years and because conventional plastics will not biodegrade it seems inevitable that the quantities of these small plastic fragments, known as microplastics, will increase in the coming decades. Because of their size these fragments can be ingested by a range of organisms including invertebrates at the base of the food chain and there are growing concerns that microplastics might case physical and / or toxicological harm to the creatures that ingest them.

This research aims to establish the extent to which microplastic debris might cause harm to organisms in the marine environment.

The project has five specific objectives:
1. To establish whether plastic micro particles sorb contaminants present in the marine environment, which contaminants are of concern, and are they made bioavailable at levels which may cause significant ‘harm’ above background concentrations.
2. To establish whether common chemical additives in plastics persist after ageing in the marine environment and whether they are made bioavailable on ingestion and as such have the potential to cause significant ‘harm’.
3. To establish whether and how microplastics are passed on through food web interactions and what the implications are for populations and ecosystems.
4. Research to determine the extent to which the physical presence of microplastics can cause significant ‘harm’ and in what quantities.
5. To establish whether ‘biodegradable plastics’ differ in their potential ‘harm’ impacts.
Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : ME5416 Microplastics Evid4 Final Report   (1663k)
• TPS - Two Page Summary : ME5416 Microplastics Two Page Summary   (150k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2014

Cost: £471,080
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University Of Plymouth Enterprise Ltd, University - Exeter