About the lecture: You have no doubt heard about garbage patches and plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and in our rivers. Have you considered what happens to plastic as it degrades in the environment? Sun, wind, water and even pavement contribute to the rapid weathering of plastic containers, films and other items in the outdoors, creating an anthropogenic dust pool of small particles, fragments and fibers. In many ways plastic items leave a trail wherever they have been discarded. Even if plastic trash is collected, this trail can easily be observed and may pose impacts to wildlife and even human health.
As plastic pieces get smaller and smaller their properties change. Changes in shape and size make it easier for plastic to be ingested or inhaled by fish and small animals. The implications of plastic intake are almost completely unknown and yet our research continues to show the occurrence of plastic particles in water, soil (sediment) and in animals. Beyond this, microplastic particles not only contain chemical additives but they also react with hydrophobic chemicals in the environment. Our analyses have shown chemical contamination both on plastic pieces and within animal tissue.
Our team uses state of the art micro-spectroscopy and analytical chemistry techniques to verify claims of microplastic exposure. Our goal is also to evaluate the many recent findings about microplastics in the environment to create a representative picture of this wide-ranging problem. Working with multiple public and private partners, we hope to inform decisions on plastic distribution and disposal around the world, stemming the tide of plastic pollution.
About the speaker: For over 20 years, Harry Allen has been a leader in field response to environmental pollution problems ranging from local oil spills to large-scale natural disasters. As part of this portfolio, he has worked to develop the definitive methodologies for characterizing microplastic pollution in environmental samples. Harry has lead multiple field studies in microplastic pollution and maintains a public-private network devoted to applying pollution science to microplastic detection and reduction strategies. He has a BS from Rutgers University and an MS from the University of San Francisco where he served as adjunct faculty.
For more information, please email EHS411@ph.ucla.edu.