Microplastics a new threat to Baltic

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.

There’s a new ecological concern about the troubled Baltic Sea.

A report says there’s a threat now from substances found in ordinary items from the bathroom shelf.

Microplastics are small particles of plastic, just 1 to 5 millimeters thick. They’re found in ordinary hygienic products, like toothpaste and deodorant. And according to a new study, they are affecting the environment of the already threatened Baltic Sea.

The report is from the Baltic Eye think tank at Stockholm University, and shows that every year 40 tons of microplastics from hygienic products alone are ending up in the sea. There they can adversely affect reproduction and can even interfere with feeding among fish, shellfish, plankton, and other organisms. Katja Broeg is an ecotoxicologist at Baltic Eye, who led the study. She says microplastics are a major threat to animal life in the sea.

The study found that sewage from Swedish households every year contains 130 tons of microplastics from hygienic products. Of that, around 40 tons makes it through the treatment plants and into the sea.

It takes a long time for the tiny particles to break down, and the Baltic, having just a narrow outlet to the sea, has a very slow water exchange with the oceans outside. That means the plastic particles, which function as magnets for bacteria and toxins, continue to circulate for a long time.

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