Stringent Regulations Needed for Microbeads Ban to Protect Aquatic Species

« An outright ban on the common use of plastic “microbeads” from products that enter wastewater is the best way to protect water quality, wildlife, and resources used by people, a group of conservation scientists suggest in a new analysis.

A new study says those tiny, plastic beads that are found in body scrubs, cosmetics, and soaps are polluting the environment.

These microbeads are one part of the microplastic problem in oceans, freshwater lakes and rivers, but are a special concern because in many products they are literally designed to be flushed down the drain. And even at conservative estimates, the collective total of microbeads being produced today is enormous.

In an article just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, scientists from seven institutions say that nontoxic and biodegradable alternatives exist for microbeads, which are used in hundreds of products as abrasive scrubbers, ranging from face washes to toothpaste. Around the size of a grain of sand, they can provide a gritty texture to products where that is needed.

“We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it,” said Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and co-author of this report.

“Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning,” she said. “Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable.”

In this analysis, and using extremely conservative methodology, the researchers estimated that 8 trillion microbeads per day are being emitted into aquatic habitats in the United States – enough to cover more than 300 tennis courts a day. But the other 99 percent of the microbeads – another 800 trillion – end up in sludge from sewage plants, which is often spread over areas of land. Many of those microbeads can then make their way into streams and oceans through runoff.

“Microbeads are just one of many types of microplastic found in aquatic habitats and in the gut content of wildlife,” said Chelsea Rochman, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California/Davis, and lead author on the analysis.

“We’ve demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects,” Rochman said. “We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products.”

Even though microbeads are just one part of the larger concern about plastic debris that end up in oceans and other aquatic habitat, they are also one of the most controllable. With growing awareness of this problem, a number of companies have committed to stop using microbeads in their “rinse off” personal care products, and several states have already regulated or banned the products.

The researchers point out in their analysis, however, that some bans have included loopholes using strategic wording. Many microbeads are used in personal care products that are not “rinse off,” such as deodorants and cleaners. And some regulations use the term “biodegradable” to specify what products are allowed – but some microbeads can biodegrade just slightly, which may allow their continued use.

If legislation is sought, “new wording should ensure that a material that is persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic is not added to products designed to go down the drain,” the researchers wrote in their report.

“The probability of risk from microbead pollution is high, while the solution to this problem is simple,” they concluded.

All the authors on this study were funded by the David H. Smith Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program, which works to develop science-based policy options for conservation and environmental issues. Other collaborators were from the University of Wyoming, University of California/Berkeley, Wildlife Conservation Society, College of William and Mary, and Georgia State University.

About the OSU College of Science

As one of the largest academic units at OSU, the College of Science has seven departments and 12 pre-professional programs. It provides the basic science courses essential to the education of every OSU student, builds future leaders in science, and its faculty are international leaders in scientific research. »


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Microbead Ban Offers Best Chance to Protect the Oceans… and Cosmetics Can Play its Part

« A new study suggests that an outright ban on the common use of plastic ‘microbeads’ from products that enter wastewater is the best way to protect water quality, wildlife, and resources.

Microbeads, which are often tiny plastic particles which are 5 mm wide or less, have been used in a variety of products such as hand cleansers, face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste, shaving foam, bubble bath, sunscreen and shampoo.
They can be found in a number of different kinds of products from all sorts of industries, not just personal care, and many cosmetics manufacturers are phasing them out of their products following growing concern.

This new study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, saw scientists from seven institutions say that non-toxic and biodegradable alternatives exist for microbeads, which are used in hundreds of products as abrasive scrubbers, ranging from face washes to toothpaste.
« We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it, » says Stephanie Green, the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the College of Science at Oregon State University.

« Part of this problem can now start with brushing your teeth in the morning. Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable. »

Microbead concern

Even though microbeads are just one part of the larger concern about plastic debris that end up in oceans and other aquatic habitat, they are also one of the most controllable.
As mentioned, with growing awareness of this problem, a number of companies have committed to stop using microbeads in their ‘rinse off’ personal care products, and in the US, several states have already regulated or banned the products.
Procter & Gamble, Estée Lauder, and Clarins have all committed to remove microbeads; though according to The Independent, they have not volunteered a timescale for this.
Unilever and Boots have pledged to end production by the end of next year, while L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, and Reckitt Benckiser are committing to eliminate the beads from products by 2017.

UN urges action

Earlier this year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report recommending a precautionary approach toward microplastic management, with an eventual phase-out and ban of their use in personal care products and cosmetics.
Noting that not all cosmetics contain plastics, the report states that a large number still do and as most of the world does not treat its wastewater or incinerate sewage sludge, most particles will therefore end up in the environment, which can be a cause for concern.
Of course, it acknowledges that the presence of ‘micro size plastic’ in the water supply isn’t solely down to personal care products, as there are other key contributors, such as synthetic fabric being broken down in washing machines.
However, the UN says that cosmetics still contribute which is why the industry must take action. »


Article by Andrew MCDOUGALL

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Pollution aux Microplastiques : 4 Nouveaux Projets de Recherche Européens

« La pollution des océans par les microplastiques constitue une menace pour l’ensemble des écosystèmes marins. Ces résidus de moins de cinq millimètres, résultant de la dégradation des déchets plastiques, contiennent en effet des composants chimiques néfastes pour la faune et la flore sous-marine.

Partikels met maatbalk new

Afin de mieux identifier ces polluants, d’analyser leur répartition et de comprendre leurs effets toxicologiques, un appel à projets international a été lancé en décembre 2014. Il visait à sélectionner des projets de recherche conjoints, portés par des scientifiques et laboratoires européens. Dix pays sont impliqués dans ce programme, qui fait partie de l’initiative « JPI Oceans » [***] : Allemagne, Belgique, Espagne, France, Irlande, Italie, Norvège, Pays-Bas, Portugal et Suède.

Sur les 21 projets ayant été soumis, quatre ont été retenus par un jury indépendant. Ils recevront, à compter de décembre 2015, un financement total de 7,5 millions d’euros sur trois ans. Sur les quatre lauréats, deux projets sont coordonnés par un institut de recherche allemand :

• Le projet BASEMAN, dirigé par l’Institut Alfred Wegener pour la recherche marine et polaire (AWI), qui va chercher à établir des standards et des protocoles pour l’analyse des microplastiques présents dans les eaux européennes.

• Le projet WEATHER-MIC, coordonné par le Centre Helmholtz pour la recherche environnementale (UFZ), et qui a pour but de comprendre les processus de dégradation, de propagation et de contamination liés aux déchets plastiques en mer.

Les deux autres projets portent sur les impacts toxicologiques des microplastiques sur les organismes marins. Leur coordination est respectivement assurée par un institut norvégien (projet PLASTOX) et espagnol (projet EPHEMARE). Au total, 51 instituts de recherche européens seront impliqués dans les quatre projets soutenus.

La France participe à trois des quatre projets (BASEMAN, PLASTOX, EPHEMARE). Des institutions telles que l’IFREMER, l’Université de Bordeaux, le Laboratoire d’océanographie de Villefranche (LOV), ou l’Institut Méditerranéen d’Océanologie (MIO) sont impliquées.
La question de la pollution marine avait été mentionnée comme défi prioritaire lors du sommet du G7 de juin 2015. Elle devrait figurer à nouveau à l’ordre du jour lors du G7 des ministres de la recherche, qui aura lieu les 8-9 octobre prochain à Berlin. »


[***] JPI Oceans est une initiative de programmation conjointe (Joint Programming Initiative, JPI) travaillant sur la recherche marine en Europe et les enjeux sociétaux liés. Les JPI constituent un mode de coopération entre États membres au service de l’Espace européen de la recherche. Elles visent l’optimisation des efforts de recherche nationaux et la mise en réseau des acteurs (organismes et financeurs), afin de répondre le plus efficacement possible aux grands défis sociétaux auxquels font face les Européens. Une JPI doit permettre d’éviter la fragmentation des efforts de recherche en Europe, en articulant et coordonnant les efforts et en établissant des programmes de recherche conjoints sur des enjeux majeurs pour les sociétés européennes.

Article de Kenny Abbey
Communiqué de presse du BMBF, 07/09/2015 « Forschung über Mikroplastik in den Ozeanen kann beginnen » :
Présentation des quatre projets sélectionnés :

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India- Maha FDA to Test Leading Cosmetic Brands to Probe Marketing of Steroid-Laden Creams

« Against the backdrop of illegal sale of steroid-laden creams by Himachal Pradesh based manufacturer Torque Pharma for skin therapy, the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently testing and examining leading cosmetic brands in its Mumbai lab to also explore the possibility of usage of steroids in cosmetic products and creams without mentioning in the labels. The test reports are likely to come out in two weeks time.


The state regulator had recently directed the manufacturer Torque Pharma to withdraw its two products- UB Fair for men and No Scars cream for women- from the market. Says Maharashtra FDA commissioner Dr Harshdeep Kamble, « We are also trying to find out the possibility that cosmetic brands might be using steroids to manufacture the creams but have not been mentioning in the labels.

While the companies have been making claims of providing fair complexion, using steroids can lead and has led to skin disorders. »

The two products UB Fair for men and No Scars cream for women contain steroids like fluocinolon acetonid and mometasone along with skin bleaching agents.

Mometasone is a potent steroid that can cause acneiform eruption on the face, unwanted hair growth, rosacea (pustular lesions), perioral dermatitis (facial rash) and fixed redness. Other steroids like fluocinolone, hydroquinone and tretinoin are often prescribed for skin diseases like melasma or discoloration but long term usage can cause severe side effects.

The FDA had seized such steroid laden products from different locations in the state.

The Maharashtra FDA has also asked the Himachal Pradesh drug controller to take action against the company under the provisions of Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Maharashtra FDA’s action against two Torque Pharma products, UB Fair for men and No Scars cream for women is based on the premise that products have been advertised as beauty treatments in contravention to the provisions of Schedule J of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Drugs and Magic Remedies Act.

Says an official associated with the development, “Steroid-laden drugs were being sold by Torque Pharma as over-the-counter product.

The drugs positioned as fairness creams through companies advertisements have misled the public with false claims on enhancing skin complexion and treatment, a practice that is prohibited, and the use of which could aggravate skin problems. The products are supposed to be advertised or positioned as a drug which requires a prescription for its use as indicated clinically and not to be sold to be used as a cosmetic under the provisions of the law of the land.”

The FDA’s action in this regard comes in response to a letter by the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists – a national body of skin specialists to the FDA demanding that the administration keep a watch on irrational sale of steroid based skin creams.

In 2011, a study published Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology that was carried in 12 cities had revealed that 60 per cent of patients who had skin problems on their face were using self-prescribed steroid-based creams. The study named the condition as « topical steroid-dependent face » and recommended a more stringent implementation of existing laws to limit public access and advertising of potent topical corticosteroids. »

Article by Shardul Nautiyal, Mumbai

Cet article n’engage que son auteur/ This article is the sole responsibility of the author

Hybrid Device Harnesses Light & Heat From the Sun

« Photovoltaics: Capturing heat that’s usually wasted boosts the energy output of solar cells

1442867189895Hybrid Energy- A hybrid energy conversion device uses a photovoltaic layer (top) to convert visible-light energy into electricity, two layers of photothermal/pyroelectric polymer (center) to convert additional light into heat and electricity, and a thermoelectric layer (bottom) to convert heat into electricity.

A new device that pairs a solar cell with heat harvesters captures more of the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity than the solar cell alone (ACS Nano 2015, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b04042).

If the hybrid device can be scaled up to larger sizes, it could be used to make energy-saving windows, among other applications, the researchers say.
“Commercial solar panels only harvest part of the radiation they’re exposed to,” says Eunkyoung Kim, who develops organic polymers at Yonsei University, in Seoul. The rest of the solar spectrum is lost, much of it as heat. To capture that heat, researchers have tried combining solar cells with pyroelectric or thermoelectric devices that convert heat into electricity.

But bringing all the components together is challenging, Kim says. The right materials have to be selected so that light and heat can transfer through one part of the device into the others. Previous hybrid devices didn’t have enough power output, says Kim. She decided to engineer clear conductive polymers to make the device more efficient and with sufficient voltage to power electrochromic windows that darken in response to electricity.

Kim and her colleagues built a multilayer device that combines different types of energy harvesters to capture more of the available visible light and heat. The top layer is a dye-sensitized solar cell, which has a low efficiency, but has the benefit of being transparent. Solar radiation that’s not captured and converted into electricity passes through to the layers below.

The second layer is the key to the device: a stack of polymer electrodes made of transparent, pyroelectric polymer coated on both sides with conductive, transparent PEDOT polymer. This part of the device converts uncaptured visible light into heat, and some of the heat into electricity. Finally this photothermal/pyroelectric layer is glued with conductive paste to a thermoelectric layer that converts remaining heat into electricity.

Adding the heat conversion devices to the solar cell boosted the overall efficiency by 20 % compared to the solar cell alone, Kim says. The hybrid device also gets an important boost in its voltage output—enough to power a light-emitting diode and an electrochromic display, which the solar cell alone can’t do. Kim wants to make larger versions of the device to power windows that would darken in response to sun and heat, keeping a building cooler. Under concentrated light, the hybrid device has a power conversion efficiency of 41.3 %.

Rachel A. Segalman, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who works on thermoelectric materials, says combining different kinds of heat-converting devices with a solar cell, instead of just using either a pyroelectric or a thermoelectric device, is an “intriguing” idea. It’s analogous to tandem solar cells, she says, which use multiple layers of materials to capture a broader spectrum of visible and infrared light.
Still, the resulting power conversion is low, Segalman says. Even if each component has high efficiency, much can be lost in the connections between them, reducing the overall efficiency of the device.

Kim says she’s working on improving the output of the hybrid system, first by optimizing the performance of each component, for example by using nanostructured materials. She is also making devices with a larger area, which would be needed to make energy-saving windows. »

Article by Katherine Bourzac

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Stem Cell-Derived Brain Mimics Predict Chemical Toxicity

« Molecular Screening: 3-D structures provide tool for probing effects of chemicals on developing human brain.

09338-notw4-3DassemblyResearchers have grown brain mimics, which contain blood vessel cells (green) and glial cells (red), using a synthetic hydrogel. Cell nuclei are blue.

Scientists in Wisconsin have succeeded in growing three-dimensional brainlike tissue structures derived from human embryonic stem cells. Unlike previous miniature model brains, the new structures can be easily reproduced and they contain vascular cells and microglia, a type of immune cell.

These brain mimics may provide a fast, low cost way to screen drugs and chemicals for their ability to disrupt human brain development, the team reports (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, DOI:10.1073/pnas.1516645112). Current toxicity screening tests use multiple generations of rats and cost about $1 million to test one chemical, says Michael Schwartz, a biomedical engineer at the University of Wisconsin who was part of the research team.

The researchers—from both the University of Wisconsin and Morgridge Institute for Research, in Madison—did not plan on creating the brainlike structures. They were surprised when they cultured neural progenitor cells on engineered hydrogels and the cells self-assembled. Neural progenitors are programmed to become specific brain cells, such as neurons and microglia.

“We just wanted to have all the neural cell types in the same place,” Schwartz says of the team’s original plan to differentiate more cell types and combine them all together manually. Once they discovered that the neural progenitor cells can organize and grow into complex tissues by themselves, the researchers incorporated vascular and microglial cells into the structures, mimicking various cell types and cell-cell interactions in the developing human brain.
Little is known about the mechanisms involved in human brain development, so it is difficult to know whether a particular chemical disrupts any of those pathways, Schwartz notes.

To get around that problem, the researchers tested the response of their miniature brain models to a variety of chemicals, studying how the structures expressed 19,000 different genes. They collected RNA sequencing data from 240 replicate brain mimics, each exposed to 60 different chemicals—34 toxic and 26 nontoxic. The toxic chemicals included lead, arsenic, cadmium, and pharmaceuticals that target various cell functions. The data were used to build a model that can predict whether a chemical, such as a food additive, an environmental pollutant, or a drug, will affect a developing human brain.

The need to measure so many genes may limit the usefulness of the Wisconsin team’s tool for screening large numbers of chemicals, say scientists developing high-throughput screening tests at the Environmental Protection Agency. Longer term, if the costs associated with measuring RNA come down, or if researchers can determine how to achieve the same predictive power with only a subset of genes, “it would help fill a biological gap in EPA’s existing high-throughput screening battery,” says Russell Thomas, director of EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology.

“In the near term, the approach might be more valuable to identify pathways and mechanisms of toxicity,” adds William Murphy, a biomedical engineer at the University of Wisconsin, who led the Wisconsin team in developing the synthetic hydrogels. “We are gathering so much data on responses of these human brain mimics to known toxic chemicals that we can start to understand the signaling pathways affected by the chemicals,” he says. “Not just whether, but how the chemicals are affecting the developing human brain.”

Article by Britt E. Erickson

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Des Nanoparticules pour Piéger les Polluants

« Une nouvelle étude démontre l’efficacité de nanoparticules pour dépolluer l’eau et les sols. Celles-ci éliminent des pesticides, des hormones, des phtalates, le bisphénol A et les hydrocarbures aromatiques polycycliques… Les résultats de ces travaux sont publiés dans la revue Nature Communications.

315fbc6e4e_nanoparticules_pollutionLes pesticides, perturbateurs endocriniens et autres molécules toxiques polluent l’air, l’eau et les sols. Les techniques habituelles pour les éléminer sont coûteuses, fastidieuses, voire peu efficaces.

Mais des chercheurs du Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) et de la Federal University of Goiás (Brésil) viennent de découvrir une nouvelle méthode efficace, simple, rapide et économique pour décontaminer les eaux et les sols. En ligne de mire : les polluants hydrophobes, tels que les pesticides apolaires, les hydrocarbures aromatiques polycycliques et certains perturbateurs endocriniens comme le bisphénol A et les phtalates.

Des nanoparticules piégeant des polluants

Les chercheurs ont synthétisé des nanoparticules de 45 à 120 nm à base polyéthylène glycol (PEG) et d’acide polylactique (PLA), des polymères biodégradables sensibles à la lumière. « Des microparticules et nanoparticules préparées à partir de ces polymères sont utilisées dans des applications biomédicales depuis 20 ans », insistent les chercheurs dans leur étude. Ils ne risquent donc pas de contaminer l’environnement et les organismes vivant dans le milieu traité.

« Certains polymères, tels que le PEG, PLA ou PLGA, sont généralement reconnus comme sûrs pour une utilisation dans des cellules, des animaux et des humains. Ils sont utilisés comme additifs alimentaires ainsi qu’en tant qu’excipients dans divers médicaments et produits cosmétiques approuvés par la Food and Drug Administration des États-Unis. », rappellent-ils.
Ces nanoparticules précipitent rapidement lorsqu’elles sont exposées au rayonnement ultra-violet. Les agrégats formés sont enrichis en polluants et peuvent être facilement séparés par sédimentation et décantation, centrifugation ou filtration. La décontamination serait efficace pour 22 types de polluants hydrophobes de l’eau et des sols et une seule opération suffirait donc à éliminer l’ensemble de ces polluants. Grâce à un rapport surface/volume important, ces nanoparticules permettent de limiter la quantité de produit à utiliser pour éliminer les polluants à grande échelle.

L’étude a par ailleurs démontré la faisabilité de la dépollution par le biais de trois projets pilotes pour éliminer des phtalates d’eaux usées, extraire du bisphénol A de papier termique et des hydrocarbures aromatiques polycycliques de sols. Cette technique pourrait ainsi être utilisée pour de nombreuses applications industrielles, dont la décontamination des sols et la réhabilitation de l’environnement à la suite de déversements chimiques. »

Source :
Article de Matthieu Combe

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