In August, at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston, Mass. Rolf Halden enlighten the world with this new threat to our environment. Many people need contact lenses every day for work and play. Until now scientists hadn’t studied what happened to these soft plastic disks after use. Mass. Rolf Halden thought of this and with his graduate students, Charles Rolsky and Varun Kelkar start to investigate.
If you wear contact lenses, you might not know the best way to discard old ones. Washing them down the sink or flushing them down the toilet is not the way to go. Yet one in five people who wear contacts does just that. The bad news is The plastic in their lenses can linger, polluting both water and land.
Mass. Rolf Halden and his graduate students designed some tests to find out what exactly happens to those soft plastics. They started by creating an online survey where they surveyed more than 400 contact lens wearers. The questions asked how many disposed of their lenses improperly. About 20% (one in five) have sent their used contacts down a sink drain or toilet. The researchers then calculated how much plastic would be flushed away each year. Their estimate: 6 to 10 metric ton. That’s really a lot.
Let’s dig little dipper. Those flushed Contact Lenses goes to sewers. Wastewater treatment plants clean the sewers water by separate out raw sewage (things like poop as well as other items, such as twigs and garbage) and then use microbes to clean the rest of the water. This is where Contact Lenses transform into microplastics by microbes most of the time. The researchers exposed contact lenses to the microbes found in water-treatment plants. These microbes broke some of the chemical bonds. This caused the plastics to begin to fall apart. But they didn’t fully degrade. Instead, they created a lot of tiny bits of debris. Scientists refer to those bits as microplastics. And those would wash out of the water-treatment plant, along with the “cleaned” water. We all know that Wastewater treatment plants release the cleaned water into lakes and rivers.
Environmental scientists have been finding microplastics everywhere, from the ocean floor to mountaintops. Many studies have shown that corals, larval fish and shellfish are mistaking microplastics for food Scientists don’t yet know whether a build-up of microplastics will harm most aquatic animals and people. But its presence is not a good sign. Among other problems with these plastic bits: They tend to accumulate many of toxic water pollutants. These can include pesticides, fossil-fuel wastes and polychlorinated biphenyls. Plastic bits that carry these pollutants now risk bringing them into the diet of animals including people.
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