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The Global Oil Spill

The global oil spill is plastic – a spill made even more dangerous by the toxic, carcinogenic, and endocrine-disrupting compounds added into the formulations of petroleum-based plastic products.

The Gulf oil spill is giving us a tragic picture of what a sick ocean looks like. Terrible though its effects are, they are regional. The effects of plastic on the other hand – particularly finely distributed, broken down plastic – are global. Let’s not let one tragedy blind us to another that is far worse.

It may take years, but the Gulf oil will be contained and its tidal zones will be cleaned up. In the open ocean, the oil will dissipate as it does with huge natural oil and gas seeps. In contrast, plastic continues to accumulate in ever increasing concentrations. Rather than dissipating, it becomes more and more dangerous as it breaks down into small pieces that resemble predator food sources and micro-particles that remain suspended in the most vital zones of the marine environment.

The smallest particles act like sponges for the most dangerous water-borne toxins and carcinogens – PCBs, pesticides, pharmaceutical chemicals and more which are added to the plastics’ own harmful compounds. The plastic particles introduce all of these compounds into the global food chain to affect almost every living thing including us humans, and our pets and livestock.

Perhaps the most worrisome compounds are the xenoestrogens and other endocrine disrupting compounds against which neither plant nor animal immune systems can provide any defense. Even the tiniest concentrations of these compounds can be extremely dangerous just as they are when they migrate from plastic containers into our foods and drinks.

All filter feeders from tiny corals and jellyfish to giant whales consume plastic. Predatory feeders mistake bits of plastic for prey species. If no action is taken, at some point plastic in the marine food chain could reach an environmental tipping point.

It is hard to believe that plastic, the ubiquitous convenience to which we are so addicted, has become life threatening. The situation is serious and urgent, but it is actionable by every one of us. You can easily reduce your “plastic footprint” while protecting your own and your family’s health. You can take smart, effective consumer and political action. For some examples, see the Take Action section.