Scientists say microplastics are all over farmlands, but we're ignoring the problem


Focus on the impacts of microplastics has almost entirely been on the world's oceans, but researchers say an even bigger problem could be hiding under our feet.

Key points:

  • Between 107,000-730,000 tonnes of microplastic are added to European and North American farmlands each year
  • In 2017, Australia produced 327,000 tonnes of dry biosolids containing microplastics and 75 per cent of it was used in agriculture
  • Researchers say there is a lack of public awareness and scientific understanding of the issue

Microplastics are particles smaller than five millimetres. About 800,000 to 2.5 million tonnes of these tiny pieces of plastic are estimated to end up in oceans each year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

However, not much is known about the damage these particles cause to landscapes as they make their way to the sea. Agricultural lands are likely to be the most plastic-contaminated places outside of landfill and urban spaces, according to research published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. The plastics find their way into agricultural soils through recycled wastewater and rubbish. Between 107,000-730,000 tonnes of microplastic are added to European and North American farmlands each year, according to researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Water Research.

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Wisconsin case shows how sewage plants spread unregulated toxins across landscape

STEVEN VERBURG sverburg@madison.com Jan 27, 2019

As Wisconsin discovers more PFAS contamination it will decide whether to follow the lead of Michigan and investigate the role of wastewater treatment plants in spreading the indestructible, toxic compounds across the landscape. Above, equipment used to test for PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water is seen at Trident Laboratories in Holland, Mich.

CORY MORSE, THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

Detection of a toxic chemical in a northeastern Wisconsin wastewater treatment plant’s sludge has prompted a halt to application of the material on nearby farms and raised broader concerns about how public sewer systems across the state may be spreading the chemical across the landscape.

The contaminated sludge in Marinette also highlights unease and confusion in local communities over the absence of enforceable federal or Wisconsin environmental standards for the chemicals — often referred to by the acronym PFAS — despite at least two decades of research linking them to serious health problems.

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Long-term exposure to chemicals in sewage sludge fertilizer alters liver lipid content in females and cancer marker expression in males

Highlights

• Chronic exposure to environmental chemicals affects liver physiology.
• Proteomic measurements showed widespread dysregulation in the exposed livers.
• Exposure dysregulated important plasma proteins such as albumin and transferrin
• Reduction in total lipids in the exposed female livers
• Increase in cancer markers in the exposed male livers

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Report: EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment

The EPA identified 352 pollutants in biosolids but cannot yet consider these pollutants for further regulation due to either a lack of data or risk assessment tools. Pollutants found in biosolids can include pharmaceuticals, steroids and flame retardants.

See full report at the EPA

Microplastics found in fertilisers being applied to gardens and farmland


Microplastics are making their way into organics fertilisers that are used in both domestic and agricultural settings ( Getty )

Many organic fertilisers being applied to gardens and farms contain tiny fragments of plastic, according to a new study.

Widely considered a problem affecting the oceans, this work suggests microplastics may actually be far more pervasive.

Having entered the soil, the scientists behind the study have warned these tiny fragments could end up in the food we eat.

The production of organic fertilisers is generally considered environmentally friendly as it involves recycling food waste from households and other sources to make useful products that can be used to grow more food.

However, contamination of the waste used to produce these fertilisers – which are used by gardeners and farmers alike – means tiny microplastics are making their way into the soil.

“One example is people use plastic bags and then put everything together in the bin, and then this is entering the waste treatment plant and ending up in the fertilisers,” Professor Ruth Freitag, one of the study’s authors, told The Independent.

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The Secret Life of Landfill: A Rubbish History Aug 25, 2018

Landfill leachate that is transported to the waste water treatment plant then ends up in sewage sludge. Learn more by viewing this film. The part about the leachate begins at fifty-two minutes and twenty-seven seconds.

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