Longevity and Toxicity

April 17, 2015

April 13, 2014 original remnants of a plastic bag in a tree

Copyright 2014 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

No one really knows the longevity of plastic in the environment.  The above photograph was made on April 14, 2014 and was created with the intention of it being the start of a series of photographs to document the lifespan of this particular piece of plastic.  (Followers of this blog should recognize these first three photographs as they were part of an earlier post-thanks for reading.)  The following photographs were made on the dates indicated and are a continuation of the series:

April 24, 2014 remnants of the same plastic bag in a tree

Copyright 2014 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

April 24, 2014

November 12, 2014 remnants of the same large plastic bag in a tree

Copyright 2014 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

November 12, 2014

January 6, 2015 Plastic bag remains in a tree

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

January 6, 2015

 

March 21, 2015 Plastic bag remains

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

March 21, 2015

March 21, 2015 Plastic bag remains

Copyright 2015 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

March 21, 2015

It has been over a year now since its first appearance and while the original piece of plastic has been gradually shredded as a result of exposure to the wind and weather, it has proven to be remarkably resilient and doggedly persistent in its existence.  Given that plastic is a relatively new material, science has been unable to ascertain with any degree of certainty the exact longevity of the substance in the environ.  This first link is simply a list of the estimated lifespan of various materials, including plastic, when exposed to environmental conditions.  This second link provides a bit more detail about the difference between biodegradation, which plastic does not do; and photodegradation, which does affect plastic-this is a very important distinction and holds some of the keys to the long-term persistence of the plastic remains once in the environ.  This third link discusses some alternatives to conventional plastics that are a bit shorter-lived.

The longevity of plastic brings with it an additional concern:  the bioaccumulation of chemical toxins throughout the food chain. As explained here, plastic is not only made of chemicals that can prove to be toxic, the material also tends to absorb other chemical toxins already present in the environment.  Photodegradation makes plastic much more brittle and results in smaller and smaller bits of the material being distributed throughout the ecosystem.  This is especially notable and visible in the oceans, where the remains are then readily ingested by various species.  As those bits are consumed by creatures further up the food chain, the accumulated toxins also continue up the chain.  The larger the organism, the greater the risk of the bioaccumulation of higher quantities of these chemicals.

Humans like to think of themselves as being at the top of the food chain and our bodies become the final repositories of these chemicals.

On a related note, yesterday Dan Rodericks on WYPR’s “Midday” radio program did another episode of the “Midday on the Bay” series, which addresses environmental problems with the Chesapeake Bay.  Mr. Rodericks interviewed Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune who discussed the series of articles entitled “Playing with Fire”, which discusses another aspect of environmental exposure to toxic chemicals-flame retardants in this case.  Here is the link to the interview and here is the link to the article series.  This is the link to the Chicago Tribune video series mentioned in the interview.  This interview is especially worth a listen as it is important to heed the message regarding the behaviour of chemical-producing companies; the power, or lack thereof, of the EPA; and the efforts of citizens to bring about social change with regard to concerns over the long-term effects of chemical exposure.

Next Wednesday, April 22nd, is celebrated as Earth Day in the U.S. and this designation was originally created (in 1970) to bring heightened attention to these types of issues.  Here we are all those years later…

Take care.

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