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Plastics decompose at sea with toxic effect say scientists

By Anthony Clark
Posted 20 August 2009
New research suggests that the prevailing view that ocean-bound plastics are virtually indestructible is wrong – they decompose with unexpected speed, releasing potentially toxic substances into the water, according to the American Chemical Society.

Head of the study, Dr Katsuhiko Saido, said the discovery was “surprising”, adding: “We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future.”

He said that polystyrene begins to decompose within one year, releasing components that are detectable in the parts-per-million range. Those chemicals also decompose but as the volume of plastics in the ocean is increasing those decomposing products remain a potential problem.

Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy, Nihon University, Chiba, Japan, said his team found that when plastics decompose they releases potentially toxic bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer into the water, causing additional pollution.
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