Pesticide Action Week 2017 Poster

Call for a pesticide-free Spring! Join us!

The Pesticide Action Week is an annual and international event, open to everyone, with the aim to promote alternatives to pesticides. The campaign takes place during the first ten days of every spring (20th-30th of march) when usually the spreading of pesticides resumes.

Call for a pesticide-free Spring!
Pesticide Action Week,
20th-30th of march.

The public is invited to get better informed about the sanitary and environmental challenges caused by pesticides and learn more about possible alternatives to pesticides by taking part in one of the hundreds of organised activities: conferences, panel discussions, film showings, workshops, open days at organic farms, information stands, exhibitions, shows…

The goals of this event are:

  • Raising awareness on the health and environment risks of synthetic pesticides
  • Highlighting and promoting alternative solutions
  • Building a global grassroots movement for a pesticide-free world

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Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment

A global assessment, Part 2, 2016

GESAMP 2017 2nd report on the microplastics issue.

This report provides an update and further assessment of the sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment, carried out by Working Group 40 (WG40) of GESAMP (The Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Protection). It follows publication of the first assessment report in this series in April 2015 (GESAMP 2015). The issue of marine plastic litter was raised during the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in June 2014. Delegates from 160 countries adopted Resolution 1/6 on ‘Marine plastic debris and microplastics’ (Annex I). The resolution welcomed the work being undertaken by GESAMP on microplastics and requested the Executive Director of UNEP to carry out a study on marine plastics and microplastics. This was to be based on a combination of existing and new studies, including WG40. This provided the motivation for GESAMP to revise the original terms of reference to reflect both the request from UNEP to contribute to the UNEA study, and the key recommendations from the WG40 2015 report.

Each main section begins with key messages followed by a short summary of related findings from the first report. Each section ends with conclusions, knowledge gaps and research priorities. Greater effort has been made to describe the nature, distribution and magnitude of sources of macro- and microplastics. These are described by sea-based and land-based sectors, together with the main entry points to the ocean. Spatial (regional) and temporal differences in both sources and entry points are examined. One previously unrecognized source of secondary microplastics highlighted is debris from vehicle tyres.

The distribution of microplastics in the five main ocean compartments (sea surface, water column, shoreline, seabed and biota) are described, together with the transport mechanisms that regulate fluxes between compartments. Regional ‘hot-spots’ of sources, distribution and accumulation zones are reported, in response to the UNEA request.

The effects of microplastics on marine biota have been explored in greater detail.

Greater attention has been given to the interaction of microplastics with biota. A comprehensive literature review has been assembled with tables summarising the occurrence of microplastics in a wide variety of marine organisms and seabirds. There does appear to be an association between uptake of microplastics and changes in the physiological or biochemical response in some species, observed in laboratory experiments. It is not clear whether this will be significant at a population level with current observed microplastic numbers. The current understanding of the interaction of plasticassociated chemicals with biota is reviewed, using laboratory-based experiments, theoretical studies and field-based observations. It appears very likely that this interaction will be dependent on:

  • the species;
  • the relative degree of contamination of the plastic, the biota concerned and the marine environment (sediment, water, foodstuff) in that region;
  • the size, shape and type of plastics;
  • and several time-related variables (e.g. environmental transport, gut desorption rates).

This remains a contentious area of research. The occurrence of nano-sized plastics in the marine environment has yet to be established and we are dependent on drawing inferences from other fields of science and medicine when considering possible effects. Microplastics can act as vectors for both indigenous and non-indigenous species. Examples include pathogenic Vibrio bacteria, eggs of marine insects and the resting stages of several jellyfish species.

A new section considers the possible effect of microplastics on commercial fish and shellfish. Microplastics have been found in a variety of commercial fish and shellfish, including samples purchased from retail outlets. Generally the numbers of particles per organism are very small, even for filter-feeding bivalves in coastal areas bordered by high coastal populations. At these levels it is not considered likely that microplastics will influence the breeding/development success of fish stocks (food security) nor represent an objective risk to human health (food safety). However, data are rather scarce and this is an area that justifies further attention.

The economic aspects of microplastic contamination are considered in another new section. This relies heavily on studies looking at the effects of macrodebris on various sectors (e.g. fisheries, shipping, tourism, waste management), given the paucity of knowledge of direct economic effects of microplastics. Acting on macroplastics may be easier to justify, as the social, ecological and economic effects are easier to demonstrate. This in turn will reduce the quantities of secondary microplastics being generated in the ocean. One significant cost that may be incurred would be the provision of wastewater treatment capable of filtering out microplastics. Such systems are relatively common in some rich countries but absent in many developing nations. Clearly, there are many other reasons to introduce improved wastewater treatment (nutrient reduction, disease prevention), with reduction in microplastics being an additional benefit.

Social aspects are focused around factors influencing long-term behaviour change, including risk perceptions, perceived responsibility and the influence of demographics. This is key to implementing effective, acceptable measures.

A separate section summarizes good practice guidance on sampling and analysis at sea, in sediments and in biological samples. There are no global ‘standards’ but if these guidelines are followed then it will be easier to generate quality-assured data, in a cost-effective manner, and for datasets to be compared and combined with more confidence.

The final main section presents an initial risk assessment framework. Having described some basic principles about risk, likelihood and consequences the section provides a conceptual framework and two case examples (one real, one hypothetical) of how the framework can be utilized.

The report concludes with key conclusions and recommendations for further research.

Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment

A global assessment, Part 1, 2015

GESAMP 2015 1st report on the microplastics issue.

The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) is a scientific body advising the United Nations (UN) and whose secretariat is the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Society has used the ocean as a convenient place to dispose of unwanted materials and waste products for many centuries, either directly or indirectly via rivers. The volume of material increased with a growing population and an increasingly industrialized society. The demand for manufactured goods and packaging, to contain or protect food and goods, increased throughout the twentieth century. Large-scale production of plastics began in the 1950s and plastics have become widespread, used in a bewildering variety of applications. The many favourable properties of plastics, including durability and low cost, make plastics the obvious choice in many situations. Unfortunately, society has been slow to anticipate the need for dealing adequately with end-of-life plastics, to prevent plastics entering the marine environment. As a result there has been a substantial volume of debris added to the ocean over the past 60 years, covering a very wide range of sizes (metres to nanometres in diameter). This is a phenomenon that has occurred wherever humans live or travel. As a result there are multiple routes of entry of plastics into the ocean, and ocean currents have transported plastics to the most remote regions. It is truly a global problem.

The GESAMP assessment focuses on a category of plastic debris termed ‘microplastics’. These small pieces of plastic may enter the ocean as such, or may result from the fragmentation of larger items through the influence of UV radiation.

Section 1 provides an introduction to the problem of microplastics in the marine environment, and the rationale for the assessment. The principal purpose of the assessment is to provide an improved evidence base, to support policy and management decisions on measures that might be adopted to reduce the input of microplastics to the oceans.

The GESAMP assessment can be considered as contributing to a more formal Assessment Framework, such as the Driver-Pressure-State-ImpactResponse (DPSIR) Assessment Framework, which is introduced in Section 2.

The nature of man-made polymers, different types and properties of common plastics and their behaviour in the marine environment are introduced in Section 3. There is no internationally agreed definition of the size below which a small piece of plastic should be called a microplastic. Many researchers have used a definition of <5 mm, but this encompasses a very wide range of sizes, down to nano-scales. Some microplastics are purposefully made to carry out certain functions, such as abrasives in personal care products (e.g. toothpaste and skin cleaners) or for industrial purposes such as shot-blasting surfaces. These are often termed ‘primary’ microplastics. There is an additional category of primary particle known as a ‘pellet’. These are usually spherical or cylindrical, approximately 5 mm in diameter, and represent the common form in which newly produced plastic is transported between plastic producers and industries which convert the simple pellet into a myriad of different types of product.

The potential physical and chemical impacts of microplastics, and associated contaminants, are discussed in detail in Section 4. The physical impacts of larger litter items, such as plastic bags and fishing nets, have been demonstrated, but it is much more difficult to attribute physical impacts of microplastics from field observations. For this reason researchers have used laboratory-based experimental facilities to investigate particle uptake, retention and effects. Chemical effects are even more difficult to quantify. This is partly because seawater, sediment particles and biota are already contaminated by many of the chemical substances also associated with plastics. Organic contaminants that accumulate in fat (lipids) in marine organisms are absorbed by plastics to a similar extent. Thus the presence of a contaminant in plastic fragments in the gut of an animal and the measurement of the same contaminant in tissue samples does not imply a causal relationship. The contaminant may be there due to the normal diet. In a very small number of cases, contaminants present in high concentrations in plastic fragments with a distinctive chemical ‘signature’ (a type of flame retardant) can be separated from related contaminants present in prey items and have been shown to transfer across the gut. What is still unknown is the extent to which this might have an ecotoxicological impact on the individual.

It is recognized that people’s attitudes and behaviour contribute significantly to many routes of entry of plastics into the ocean. Any solutions to reducing these sources must take account of this social dimension, as attempts to impose regulation without public understanding and approval are unlikely to be effective. Section 5 provides an opportunity to explore issues around public perceptions towards the ocean, marine litter, microplastics and the extent to which society should be concerned. Research specifically on litter is rather limited, but useful analogies can be made with other environmental issues of concern, such as radioactivity or climate change.

Section 6 summarizes some of the main observations and conclusions, divided into three sections: i) sources, distribution and fate; ii) effects; and, iii) social aspects. Statements are given a mark of high, medium or low confidence. A common theme is the high degree of confidence in what we do not know. The assessment report concludes (Section 7) with a set of six Challenges and related Recommendations. Suggestions for how to carry out the recommendations are provided, together with a briefing on the likely consequences of not taking action. These are divided into three Action-orientated recommendations and three recommendations designed to improve a future assessment:

Action-orientated recommendations:

  • Identify the main sources and categories of plastics and microplastics entering the ocean.
  • Utilize end-of-plastic as a valuable resource rather than a waste product.
  • Promote greater awareness of the impact of plastics and microplastics in the marine environment.

Recommendations for improving a future assessment: • Include particles in the nano-size range.

  • Evaluate the potential significance of plastics and microplastics as a vector for organisms.
  • Address the chemical risk posed by ingested microplastics in greater detail.

Dissenting Diagnosis

Voices of Conscience from the Medical Profession

dissenting diagnosis book cover image
Dissenting Diagnosis,
Voices of Conscience from the Medical Profession, by Dr Arun Gadre and Dr Abhay Shukla.

Complaints about the state of medical care are increasing in today s India; whether it s unnecessary investigations, botched operations or expensive, sometimes even harmful, medication. But while the unease is widespread, few outside the profession understand the extent to which the medical system is being distorted.

Dr Arun Gadre and Dr Abhay Shukla have gathered evidence from seventy-eight practising doctors, in both the private and public medical sectors, to expose the ways in which vulnerable patients are exploited by a system that promotes unscrupulous medical practices. At a time when the medical sector is growing rapidly, especially in urban areas, with the proliferation of multi-specialty hospitals and the adoption of ever-more sophisticated technologies, rational and ethical medical care is becoming increasingly rare. Honest doctors feel under siege, professional bodies meant to regulate the medical sector fail to do so, and the influence of the powerful pharmaceutical industry becomes even more pervasive.

Drawing on the frank and courageous statements of these seventy-eight doctors dismayed at the state of their profession, Dissenting Diagnosis lays bare the corruption afflicting the medical sector in India and sets out solutions for a healthier future.

  • See more DES books on this Flickr album.
  • Read How Pharmaceutical Companies Entice Doctors Into Prescribing Expensive Medication, the Caravan, 16 April 2016.
  • Read Customer Reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.

Fracking Fluid’s Secret Recipe

Can we measure the hydraulic fracturing health effects easily without knowing exactly what chemicals are used?

Another classic Rob Rogers‘ cartoon that nails some of the absurd messaging and rationale by the fracking industry.

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A smear test lasts 5 minutes

Cervical Cancer Prevention and Awareness Poster

Cervical Cancer Prevention : see what Jo’s Trust is doing.

Image source: Cervical screening and cervical abnormalities Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Information.

Good Coffee?

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water

In 2015, the New York Times reported that fracking fluid had been found in well water in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

The industry criticized the study, saying that it provided no proof that the chemical came from a nearby well.

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Green is the New Pink

Stop Putting Cancer-causing Chemicals on Your Face

Many beauty ingredients have been linked to breast cancer.


Endocrine Disruptors

Rare Disease Day 2017 Poster

Rare Disease Day is open to everyone ; so get involved!

The main objective of Rare Disease Day is to raise awareness among the general public and decision-makers about rare diseases and their impact on patients’ lives.

OrphaNet, portal for rare diseases and orphan drugs, includes the Diethylstilbestrol DES syndrome as rare disease ORPHA:1916.

More information

How much do you know about DES?

Personal Care Products

Are your PCPs really Safe?


Endocrine Disruptors