A scientific perspective on microplastics in nature and society

Authors

Bart Koelmans
Chair
Professor
University of Wageningen
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Sabine Pahl
Vice-Chair
Associate Professor
University of Plymouth
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Thomas Backhaus
Professor
University of Gothenburg
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Filipa Bessa
Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Coimbra
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Geert van Calster
Nadja Contzen
Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Groningen
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Richard Cronin
Water and Marine Advisory Unit, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Ireland
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Tamara Galloway
Professor
University of Exeter
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Andy Hart
Visiting Professor
Newcastle University
Declaration of interests
Lesley Henderson
Senior Lecturer
Brunel University
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Gabriela Kalčíková
Assistant Professor
University of Ljubljana
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Declaration of interests
Frank Kelly
Professor
King’s College London
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Bartłomiej Kołodziejczyk
Research Fellow
Stockholm University
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Elda Marku
Professor
University of Tirana
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Wouter Poortinga
Professor
Cardiff University
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Matthias Rillig
Professor
Freie University Berlin
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Erik Van Sebille
Associate Professor
Utrecht University
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Linda Steg
Professor
University of Groningen
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Declaration of interests
Josef Steidl
Professor Emeritus
Czech Technical University Prague
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Declaration of interests
Julia Steinhorst
Research Associate
Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies
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Declaration of interests
Kristian Syberg
Associate Professor
Roskilde University
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Declaration of interests
Richard Thompson
Professor
University of Plymouth
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Martin Wagner
Associate Professor
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Annemarie van Wezel
Professor
KWR Watercycle Research Institute; Utrecht University
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Stephanie Wright
Research Associate
King’s College London
Personal profile
Declaration of interests
Kayleigh Wyles
Lecturer
University of Surrey
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Declaration of interests

The best available evidence suggests that microplastics and nanoplastics do not pose a widespread risk to humans or the environment, except in small pockets. But that evidence is limited, and the situation could change if pollution continues at the current rate.

This is the verdict of SAPEA’s Evidence Review Report on micro- and nanoplastic pollution, published in January 2019. The report is written by a group of world-leading experts nominated by academies across Europe, and informs the Scientific Opinion from the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.

What the report says

The report comprehensively examines the best available evidence from the natural sciences and computer modelling, as well as social, political and behavioural sciences. Its key conclusions are:

  • Microplastics — tiny particles under 5mm in length — are already present across air, soil and sediment, freshwaters, seas and oceans, plants and animals, and in several components of the human diet.
  • These particles come from a variety of sources, including plastic products, textiles, fisheries, agriculture, industry and general waste.
  • In controlled experiments, high concentrations of these particles have been shown to cause physical harm to the environment and living creatures, including inducing inflammation and stress.
  • However, the concentration levels measured in many real-world locations are well below this threshold — though there are also limitations in the measurement methods currently available.
  • Meanwhile, in other parts of the environment, there is no reliable evidence about the levels or effects of these particles. This is true especially of nanoplastics, which are very difficult to measure and evaluate.

Debate and impact

As SAPEA’s work on microplastics is published and disseminated throughout 2019 and beyond, its impact on the microplastics debate will be recorded here.

Events for researchersPublic eventsMedia coverageDebate on Twitter

SAPEA’s work on microplastics will be presented and discussed at a range of events for researchers and academics in 2019.

ALLEA General Assembly
The ALLEA General Assembly convenes Academies of Sciences and Humanities from 40 countries across the Council of Europe region.

Read more
SETAC Europe

The society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) is a not-for profit, global professional society established in 1979 to provide a forum for individuals and institutions engaged in education, research and development, ecological risk assessment and life-cycle assessment, chemical manufacture and distribution, management and regulation of natural resources, and the study, analysis, and solution of environmental problems.

Read more

SAPEA’s work on microplastics will be presented and discussed at a range of events for the general public in 2019. Details will be published here.

As details of media coverage become available, they will be published here.

New report about #microplastics comprehensively examines the best available evidence from the natural sciences and computer modelling, as well as social, political and behavioural sciences. @SAPEAnews
https://t.co/8lQbq1QN7N

“What we found is that as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up” - this discrepancy is relevant for our recent work for @SAPEAnews too

Niki Rust🌱 on Twitter

“Really important #scicomm article on knowledge deficit of opponents to #GM foods. Has widespread implications for dealing with #climatechange d...

twitter.com

Thankyou @SabinePahl for an intense & productive 4 months helping to add the #socialscience to #microplastics & #risk @SAPEAnews @EU_Commission @BrunelResearch @Bruneluni

Thomas Backhaus on Twitter

“Here's our review report on #microplastics for SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) @SAPEAnews https://t.co/WijOBxFzWl Ho...

twitter.com

Here's our review report on #microplastics for SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) @SAPEAnews

https://t.co/WijOBxFzWl

Honored to have worked with Bart Koelmans @SabinePahl @martiwag @DykstraPearl and a whole bunch of other great people!

"The precautionary principle enables decision-makers to adopt precautionary measures when scientific evidence is uncertain & when the possible consequences of not acting are high." great thinking by @SAPEAnews.@SvenjaSchulze68 does the "precautionary principle" count in politics?

Science Advice for Policy by European Academies on Twitter

“Hot off the press: SAPEA report comprehensively reviewing risks posed by #microplastics and #nanoplastics https://t.co/221TK7agGe”

twitter.com

.@NicoleGrobert from #SAMGroup_EU wrap-up 2 days discussions on #microplastics Pollution @JEPaquetEU @DCallejaEC @DykstraPearl @ChiefSciCan @SabinePahl @JoKlumpers @lesleyhenders @BCarneyAlmroth @gavigja @SAPEAnews

Day 2 of launching our @SAPEAnews report on #microplastics and great summary of current state of research on human health by Stephanie Wright. @martiwag

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