Even innocent plastic items such as toothbrushes that are left on B.C. beaches are leaching toxic metals into the water, a SFU study released Wednesday suggests.
Researchers found that plastic particles as small as five millimetres release toxic metals into the environment.
“While extremely high levels of the four metals were found in certain items, all items carried traces of them,” said researcher Leah Bendell.
“This can pose significant toxicological threats and impair the health of coastal ecosystems.”
Environmental engineering master student Bertrand Munier spent four weeks collecting more than 15o pieces of plastic debris from nine beaches along the Burrard Inlet.
The junk included toys, personal hygiene items, bicycle parts and food packaging.
The researchers found varying traces of metals, cadmium, zinc, copper and lead in every piece of debris.
“Even something as innocuous as a child’s toy left on the beach will provide a sorption site for metals, which will then break down into fragments that could then allow the entry of toxic metals into coastal food webs,” Bendell said.
She warned that World Economic Forum estimates show the total mass of plastics in our oceans will outweigh the biomass of fish by 2050.