Tue, Feb 19, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Plastics reaching remote environments: scientists

NOWHERE SAFE:Birds’ eggs in the High Arctic have been found to contain chemical additives used in plastics to keep them flexible, including phthalates

The Guardian

Scientists have warned about the impact of plastic pollution in the most pristine corners of the world after discovering chemical additives in birds’ eggs in the High Arctic.

Eggs laid by northern fulmars on Prince Leopold Island in the Canadian Arctic tested positive for hormone-disrupting phthalates, a family of chemicals that are added to plastics to keep them flexible. It is the first time the additives have been found in Arctic birds’ eggs.

The contaminants are thought to have leached from plastic debris that the birds ingested while hunting for fish, squid and shrimp in the Lancaster Sound.

The birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Northern fulmars have an oily fluid in their stomachs, which they projectile-vomit at invaders that threaten their nests.

Scientists believe the phthalates found their way into the fluid, and from there passed into the bloodstream and the eggs that females were producing.

Jennifer Provencher at the Canadian Wildlife Service said it was worrying to find the additives in the eggs of birds in such a pristine environment.

Northern fulmars in the Arctic tend to come across far less plastic than other birds.

Provencher’s tests revealed that mothers passed on a cocktail of contaminants to their unborn chicks.

“It’s really tragic,” she said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington. “That bird, from the very beginning of its development, will have those contaminants inside it.”

She analyzed the yolk and albumin of five northern fulmar eggs collected on Prince Leopold Island and found that one tested positive for phthalates.

The chemicals disrupt hormones, or the endocrine system, and have been linked to birth defects, fertility problems and a host of metabolic diseases. Many phthalates have been banned in children’s toys on safety grounds.

More work is needed to confirm whether the additives cause any harm to birds.

“We know that these chemicals are often endocrine disruptors, and we know that they can interrupt hormonal development and cause deformations. But whether they actually cause any harm in the eggs is something we don’t know,” Provencher said.

Further tests found traces of other plastic contaminants in northern fulmar and black-legged kittiwake eggs collected from the same nesting sites.

Eggs from both birds tested positive for SDPAs and BZT-UVs, which are added to plastics to stop them degrading and losing their color in sunlight respectively.

The scientists now want to look for plastic contaminants in the eggs of other bird populations that ingest more plastic debris.

“We need to look at whether they have the same chemicals, higher levels of chemicals, and additional chemicals,” Provencher said. “The recognition that at least some of these contaminants are going into eggs really opens the door for all these other questions we should be asking in areas of much higher plastic concentrations.”

Northern fulmars can live for 40 years or more, which means the birds have been exposed to significant plastic debris in the seas for only a few generations.

Lyndsey Dodds, the head of UK marine policy at WWF, said: “Our throwaway culture is strangling the natural world with plastic, choking our oceans and harming our wildlife; 90 percent of the world’s sea birds have fragments of plastic in their stomach, and now we are hearing even their eggs are not immune from the plastic plague. We need to take urgent action globally and at home to eliminate plastics from nature by 2030.”

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