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Anyone who has ever struggled with knowing which plastic items they can or cannot place in their recycling bin will appreciate the complex task facing Professor Rob Hale and his students at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Hale began studying plastics in the 1990s after he and Marine Scientist Mark La Guardia discovered high levels of flame retardants in fishes from the James River. They quickly realized these compounds, added to household plastics to reduce their flammability, were somehow escaping their confines and entering the aquatic environment.
Research - Hale - Team - Others - Levels
Subsequent groundbreaking research by Hale's team and others revealed high levels of flame retardants in wastewater, e-waste sites, sewage sludges, soils, sediments, and indoor dust; as well as in minnows, earthworms, insects, birds of prey, deep-sea squid and other organisms. Related research—based on concerns that these chemicals persist in the environment and tend to accumulate up the food chain—revealed health impacts in both wildlife and people, and led to worldwide limitations on the use of the most troublesome flame-retardant compounds.
Hale's early experience with plastics research has now poised his team for a leading role in addressing the most recent worry about plastics in the environment—the growing concern about the effects of microplastics in the ocean.
Plastics - Plastic - Pollution - Hale - Complexity—plastics
To study plastics and plastic pollution, Hale says, "you have to embrace the complexity—plastics are not just one thing. They're not just bottles, or bags, or cellphone cases, or the foam in your couch."
Hale and his team, including La Guardia, Drew Luellen, Matt Mainor, Ellen Harvey and master's degree student Kelley Uhlig, have analyzed products made from polyethylene, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, polypropylene, polyamides and biopolymers; these are just a subset of the thousands of plastic varieties in common use.
Complexity - Class - Plastics - Variants - Polyethylene
Adding even more complexity is that a single class of plastics can itself contain multiple variants. Polyethylene, for example,...
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