Is It Safe to Eat Produce From Farmers Markets? Yes and Please Do
The 10-month-old harbor seal, nicknamed Freddie Mercury, was taken to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, where staff discovered he had a fractured flipper and dislocated joint, the hospital wrote on . They also said he was not eating and had a spreading infection.
“At this stage we believe the only ethical and fair option we have is to end his suffering,” the hospital wrote.
Freddie first gained public fame in February after being rescued from the Teddington Lock in Southwest London, where he got a fishing lure stuck in his mouth, The Guardian reported. He was released on the Isle of Sheppey off the Kent coast, but returned to the Teddington stretch of the Thames to Londoners' delight.
'We are so lucky to have these beautiful animals in our river, it's magical,” Broni Lloyd-Edwards, a photographer whose images of Freddie appeared in Metro, told the paper.
However, a dog mauled Freddie as he basked along the riverside on Sunday, The Guardian reported. Four people rushed to pry open the dog's jaws, including a vet. The dog and its owner then left, while emergency workers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) rushed the seal to the hospital.
In a post, BDMLR concurred that nothing more could be done for Freddie.
“Freddie was a wild seal and after the ferocious attack on Sunday he suffered a serious broken and dislocated flipper,” BDMLR CEO Alan Knight wrote on . “We contacted one of the UK's leading orthopedic surgeons, and he said that unfortunately the only option was to euthanize the seal.”
Both the hospital and BDMLR said the incident underscored the importance of giving wildlife the space they need.
“Sadly, Freddie is not the only seal we have had to care for that this has happened to,” the hospital wrote. “Please folks do not go near seals and always, always, keep dogs on leads and under control.”
“We are all absolutely gutted to hear about the extent of the injuries Freddie suffered, and highlights yet again the serious problems that can arise when humans and dogs encounter wild animals,” the group wrote.
“We hope that his story will go a long way to helping educate people to look up and follow the appropriate guidelines for how to behave respectfully around wild animals and not cause disturbance or worse to them.
This could be life-saving advice for the harbor seals that frequent the Thames. The Zoological Society of London's Thames Marine Mammal Survey has so far reported 117 seal sightings along the river this year, the Evening Standard reported.
“It is not unusual for seals to find their way into harbors or rivers such as the Thames and they have been known to travel inland quite some distance,” a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told Metro. “They are often just looking for more food and generally they find their way out to sea again.”
“It's just a massive amount of these microscopic particle pollutants that are now part of our environment,” Julie Peller, a professor of chemistry at Valparaiso University whose recent research revealed the microplastics-algae dynamic, told EHN.
Peller and colleagues say the study may offer insight into how we can stop the microplastic pollution — any plastic debris less than five millimeters long — from getting into the lakes.
However, in the meantime, algae are often used as shelter for freshwater species at the bottom of the food chain, so the findings suggest that these microplastic hiding spots could be contaminating Great Lakes fish — and the people that eat them.
The Hiding Spots for Great Lakes Plastic
There are a lot of microplastics in the Great Lakes, one of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems and the drinking water source for 30 million people.
While less well understood than ocean plastics, the tiny bits of plastic are pretty much ubiquitous throughout the five lakes. Research shows they're in tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.
Surface water samples show huge numbers of microplastics, but statistical models always predict more microplastics are in the lakes than are found by sampling.
Finding them in algae helps close some of that gap.
“I think that we found one of those reservoirs where some of the microplastics have been, for lack of a better word, hiding,” said Peller, whose recently published study in Environmental Pollution documented the close interactions between algae and microplastics.
This study examined the most abundant group of algae in the Great Lakes: Cladophora. Cladophora, which looks a bit green hair, readily tangles up with plastic microfibers, which are shed from synthetic clothing, carpets, and other cloth.
Nearly every penny-sized sample of Cladophora collected from the lakes contained at least one microfiber, Peller said. Even samples from apparently pristine locations, near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the northwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, contained microplastics.
Peller's team also took clean, living Cladophora samples and added plastic microfibers to them. Plastic microfibers quickly adhered to the algae in a process called adsorption, in which two substances stick together because of a molecular attraction.
“The affinity between microplastics and Cladophora may offer insights for removing microplastic pollution,” Peller and colleagues wrote in the study. In fact, adsorption already plays a major role in stopping microplastic pollution.
Attracted to Sludge
Synthetic fabrics shed microfibers when washed, so microfibers are often most abundant near populous areas where they enter the environment through treated wastewater.
Even without special plastic screening technology, removing 90 percent of plastics is not only possible, but probable, Heng Zhang, the assistant director of monitoring and research at Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, told EHN. Studies of wastewater treatment plants around the world put the removal rate as high as 98 percent.
A main goal of wastewater treatment is removing particles of organic waste by screening and settling out waste into a sludge. Because microplastics tend to attach to these particles, they do to algae, a lot of it is captured by processes designed before microplastic pollution started gaining attention.
“I have to admit, it wasn't designed. It just happened by chance or by nature or the characteristics of the stuff,” Zhang said.
Removal rates of 90 percent or higher still leave a lot of microplastics in the Great Lakes. Some researchers estimate 10,000 metric tons (or about 11,000 tons) of plastic pollution enters the Great Lakes each year.
But regulation will ly dictate when new microplastic removal technology is developed.
“I don't see any EPA guidelines that says we need to start looking at the technology to remove that,” Zhang said. “It looks microplastics is down to the very end of the priority list.”
Until then, wastewater treatment plants are ly to focus on other areas, Zhang said.
Pollutants metals, nutrients and emerging contaminants improperly disposed pharmaceuticals take precedence now.
If or when microplastics become a focus of wastewater treatment it makes sense to “start with what has worked,” Zhang wrote in a follow-up email. There would still be questions to answer about efficacy, cost and consequences — such as safe disposal after microplastic is collected.
Plastics at the Base of the Food Web
Cladophora is a genus of freshwater algae that has increased in the Great Lakes with the arrival of invasive mussels. Filter-feeding zebra and quagga mussels have spread throughout the Great Lakes basin, sucking light-blocking algae and plankton the water. As the water cleared and sunlight could reach greater depths, Cladophora expanded its range to deeper waters.
Cladophora is different from the toxic blue-green algae that has caused problems for some Great Lakes water supplies. But there's so much of it now it's become a nuisance, Meredith Nevers, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-author of the new study, told EHN.
The sheer amount of long, stringy Cladophora in the lakes — up to 129,000 tons, according to one estimate — means it's ly playing a significant role in microplastic's fate in the Great Lakes.
“If there are microfibers and microplastics in the lake, there's no question they're going to get tangled up in filaments of algae,” Nevers said.
Great Lakes fish don't eat Cladophora, but it provides shelter for zooplankton and other invertebrates, which are a major food source for some prey fish.
The mingling of microplastics with natural fish food could be one entry point for microplastics into the food chain.
Further, by catching microplastics, algae may be keeping them suspended in the water for longer where they're more ly to be eaten.
“It wouldn't surprise me to have microplastics enter food webs through the invertebrates that live in and graze on Cladophora,” Eric Hellquist wrote in an email to EHN. Hellquist is a professor of biological sciences at State University of New York Oswego.
Once microplastics enter a food chain, they can make their way up to fish species that humans eat, research shows.
Hellquist and his students surveyed prey fish — such as alewife, sculpin, and invasive round gobies — in Lake Ontario and found that 97 percent of 330 fish had microfibers in their digestive tracts. The majority of microplastics found were microfibers, he said.
Higher up the food chain, microplastics were present in most animals, too. In 40 chinook salmon, Hellquist found that 92 percent had microplastics in their digestive tract. Of 33 coho salmon, 82 percent had ingested microplastics. Hellquist's students found, on average, 3.5 to 4 pieces of plastic in each salmon.
Research is beginning to show harmful effects on fish from microplastics. Microplastics are often found in their gills and digestive systems, but also within muscle tissue. When ingested they've been found to have harmful effects on fish digestion, metabolism, growth and brain function. They've also been associated with higher levels of toxic substances in fish.
Research suggests that fish consumption could be one way that microplastics get into people.
'It's Just So Huge'
The study of microplastics in the Great Lakes is still a relatively young field and a lot of questions need to be answered.
One thing is clear: the amount of microplastics in the Great Lakes is huge.
“It's hard to think about because it's so large,” Peller said.
However, Peller thinks the stickiness of algae might inspire better removal technology.
“I think that a lot of times when we look for solutions to problems that we as humans have created, we often find a lot of insight into nature's natural mechanism for cleansing itself,” she said.
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.