A group of scientists from Galway have outlined to the government how Ireland’s freshwater and marine bodies are heavily contaminated with microplastic.
Dr. Róisín Nash and Dr. Anne Marie Mahon from GMIT and Dr. Kevin Lynch from NUI Galway were giving evidence in the Dáil about how microplastic pollution finds its way into rivers, beaches and even contaminates animal life.
The Oireachtas Committee of Housing, Planing, and Local are scrutinising a bill which meant to cut down on the amount of microplastic into out oceans and rivers.
The Bill would place restrictions on the manufacture or import of goods containing plastic microbeads commonly found in exfoliating creams, toothpaste, or other cosmetic products.
These are tiny spheres of plastic less than a millimetre across that are almost impossibly to catch and last for hundreds of years in the environment.
According to Dr Mahon a study funded by the EPA in 2015 found that even in well regulated plastic industries with on site treatment, there was still plastic being discharged into the sewers.
While wastewater treatments are able to capture roughly 90% of the plastic that finds its way into the sewers “The remaining 10%, which is not a low figure, ends up in our rivers and lakes.”
“We do not really know where the microplastics go from there or what impact they may have on the environment or human health.”
Dr Kevin Nash said that plastic pollution is seriously affecting the food chain, with microplastics building up inside animals that live in the ocean, and then in the predators that eat them.
“There is evidence of microplastics in both the blue mussel and nephrops in Galway Bay and on the west coast generally, which means that they are in the food chain, which gives real cause for concern.”
Dr Nash added that microplastics have also been found in seabird eggs, and they are looking for ways to reduce that.
The scientist were supportive of the Bill to regulate microbeads, but added they are only a small part of the problem with microplastic.
Speaking for the Irish Cosmetics Detergents and Allied Products Association, Ms Síobhán Dean said that the industry plans to phase out the use of non-biodegradable, synthetic plastics in cosmetic products by 2020.
She also said that the cosmetics industry only contributes 2% of marine litter at most, arguing that the majority of microplastic marine litter comes from comes from the breakdown of bigger items like car tyres and synthetic clothes fibres.