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Researchers identify plastic pollution identical to the appearance of rocks

The overuse of plastics by human beings has carried it to the wilderness of Antarctica along with the highest and deepest places on Earth. But it still manages to surprise us in its new forms. A new research has found plastics in the camouflage of ordinary pebbles. The study has been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.  

Known as pyroplastics, these plastic chunks are created when plastic is melted by some process such as manufacturing. Then they get weathered in a way similar to rocks and keep shedding microplastics as they are carried by the sea and sands. 

They have escaped our attention being similar to rocks. They have been detected as plastiglomerates in Hawaii, where they were mixed with sands and shells. However they differ from manufactured plastic in terms of origin, thickness and appearance. They have been found in Spain, Vancouver, hence it is suspected that it might not be a regional phenomenon. We are not able to document it on a large scale due to its geogenic appearance. 

Andrew Turner from the University of Plymouth and his colleagues researched on 165 plastic chunks from Whitsand Bay beaches in Cornwall. They also received from Orkneys, Scotland and County Kerry, Ireland. Through attenuated total reflection and infrared spectroscopy, they found that the chunks were mostly polyethylene or polypropylene. However through X-Ray fluorescence it was revealed that the samples also contained lead chromate which when mixed with plastic gives it a orange or red hue. Its use is restricted by Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), however the quantity present in the sample is greater than the limits set by RoHS. Few samples stuck to the calcium carbonate tubes of marine worm Spirobranchus triqueter. In these tubes, lead was found. 

This suggests that the compound can enter the bodies of living organisms. If found in the bodies of worms, it could also pass on to its predators. Hence there is a necessity to conduct research on a wider scale to find out the actual quantity of this plastic which is hiding from our daily view. Their impact on the environment and the amount of microplastics released can be properly gauged after that. 

Pyroplastics need to classified in a separate manner within the classification of marine litter. Researchers mention that they are also a source of finer plastic particles which are then able to contaminate organisms who ingest them. 

Journal Reference: Science of the Total Environment