San Fernando Valley Sun: Sen. Padilla Leads Joint Hearing on Microplastics and Its Impact on Our Health

By Semantha Raquel Norris

Microplastics, often microscopic pieces of plastic, have been found everywhere in our environment, including ocean seabeds, the air, our drinking water, the food we eat and even in human lungs, bloodstreams and mother’s breastmilk.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), led a joint hearing on microplastics in drinking water and wastewater with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Tuesday, Feb. 27, in Washington D.C., during which they raised the alarm about the potential harms of microplastics on the health of humans and the environment.

“One thing we do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is where we can find microplastics. Because the answer is everywhere. It’s all around us,” said Padilla. “While we continue to learn more and more about the presence of microplastics on the planet, the question must also become, ‘What are the potential impacts of microplastics on human health?’”

The hearing, “Understanding the Presence of Microplastics in Water,” brought forth a panel of experts for questioning on the subject – Dr. Susanne M. Brander, associate professor, Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences; Dr. Sherri A. “Sam” Mason, Ph.D., director of Sustainability, Penn State Behrend; and Mr. Brent Alspach, P.E., vice president & director of Applied Research, Arcadis.

Brander stated during her testimony that in addition to plastic pollution, synthetic microfibers from synthetic, nylon and polyester garments in our laundry, and a breakdown of plastics from dishwasher and plastic detergent pods, also add microplastics – and even smaller nanoplastics – to our wastewater.

Beyond wastewater, these micro and nanoplastics are in our drinking water.

“While drinking water in the United States does contain fewer microplastics in comparison to wastewater, the U.S. does have among the highest prevalence of microfibers in its drinking water, and the highest number of particles detected per liter,” said Brander.

Micro and nanoplastics are found in tap water, but are much more prevalent (nearly 58 times the quantity) in bottled water, which Brander pointed out, “is disproportionately consumed by marginalized communities.”

Because plastics are synthetic (manmade) they don’t easily biodegrade, making them problematic for the environment and living creatures.

“There are about 13,000 different chemicals used during the manufacture of various plastic products,” said Mason during her testimony. She added that many of these chemicals mimic hormones, which are the chemical messengers of the body.

“By affecting the endocrine system, these chemicals within plastics are linked to fertility issues, including decreased sperm counts, as well as being associated with obesity rates, autism and other developmental issues,” continued Mason.

Although microplastics are a pervasive problem, there are potential solutions to help mitigate contamination, including better filtration systems, controlling the production of plastics and finding alternative products.

Padilla acknowledged California’s leadership in environmental policy, including being the first in the nation to implement a microplastics monitoring program for drinking water. The program will help develop a definition of microplastics and standardize methodologies for measuring plastic levels in drinking water. This could be a potential roadmap for other states, and help future water research, monitoring and treatment efforts.

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