Microplastics – Defining “Harm”

Microplastics – Defining “Harm”

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Consider listening in to the free National Academy of Sciences (NAS) “Emerging Technologies to Advance Research and Decisions on the Environmental Health Effects of Microplastics, A Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions,” Workshop and Webcast, Jan. 27-28, 2020. Mary Ellen Ternes, Partner, E&W Law LLC, will be setting the legal landscape for policy approaches to address microplastics as a foundation for the final panel discussion on Tuesday, Jan. 28th, “Leveraging New Approaches to Inform Public Health and Policy Decisions.” The session includes critical stakeholders: Brett Howard, American Chemistry Council; Suzanne Van Drunick, U.S. EPA; Elke Anklam, Joint Research Center of the European Commission; and Kimberly Warner, Oceana; moderated by Kevin Elliott, Michigan State University.

Microplastics—pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters in size—have been detected throughout the environment. These tiny pieces of plastic, which can come from larger plastic debris, cosmetics, clothes, tires, and coatings, have been found in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink – and from the deepest ocean trenches to the snows of the Antarctic. Despite the widespread prevalence of microplastics, little is known about the effects they may have on living things. What do we know about their impact on human health and the health of the environment? Organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on the Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions, this workshop will bring together the environmental science and health communities to explore how emerging technologies and research strategies could help address important environmental health questions about microplastics. Participants will explore methods to detect and quantify microplastics in food and the environment, delve into research on the effects of microplastics on the health of humans and wildlife, and discuss ways to reduce microplastics in the environment. The workshop will end with a session on how these new approaches may be leveraged to inform public health and policy questions.

Mary Ellen’s presentation kicking off the final session will review environmental regulatory programs and their mitigation strategies which rely heavily on assessing and mitigating exposure based on chemical toxicity. While plastics in the environment can attract and biomagnify persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals, such that plastic particles can serve as the proverbial “chip” carrying pollutants as chemical “salsa,” our environmental programs don’t squarely capture the often cruel result of the presence of synthetic persistent and generally inert plastic waste in our environment, including obstruction of biological processes. How can we best define this harm, chemically and physically, to human health and the environment, in a representative manner so as to adequately support mitigation efforts? How can our existing legal tools focusing primarily on chemical toxicity rather than physical harm, mitigate this as yet poorly defined harm, and what new approaches may be effective in dealing with it?

This FREE @theNASEM workshop will explore new methods to detect microplastics in the environment and understand their effects on human health and the environment, and also discuss possible avenues toward mitigation that may inform future research needs.

Learn more and register here: CLICK HERE TO REGISTER or here: http://nas-sites.org/emergingscience/environmental-health-effects-of-microplastics/

Follow us at @theNASEM and @NASEM_EnvHealth, or using hashtags #ESEHDWorkshop or #Microplastics.


Mary Ellen Ternes


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