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Friday Finds: The Ocean’s Plastics Predicament

Tiny plastics clog the world’s oceans
By now we all know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a giant mess of trash in the ocean—but in turns out that the world’s oceans are also full of tiny plastics, reports CNN. These so-called microplastics are used in everyday products like exfoliating face soaps and hand cleansers to give you that just-scrubbed feeling without taking a Brillo Pad™ to your face. But despite their tiny nature, microplastics may be wreaking havoc on marine life that unsuspectingly swallow these plastic bits floating in the ocean. One 2008 study even found that these tiny particles can hang out in the bodies of mussels for almost two months, though scientists don’t know yet if they cause any harm (mostly because of a lack of research on the issue). And, because they stick around the environment for a long time and can’t easily be dredged out, the plastic pollution problem is only going to get worse. According to one researcher, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage over the last 40 years. Personal product companies like Unilever are responding to the problem by phasing out the use of microplastics as a scrub material in its products. So, you may soon have to find another way to get your scrub on.

FDA takes bite out of food illnesses with proposed rules
After years of deadly outbreaks from contaminated spinach, peanut butter and other foods, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed sweeping food safety rules to prevent contamination of the nation’s food, reports the LA Times. Each year, a shockingly high number of people fall ill from a food-borne illness—about one in six Americans—and of the people who get sick, 3,000 die. Historically, the FDA’s approach to food safety has been to wait until there’s a problem and then scramble to fix it. Now, in order to stem the tide of foodborne illnesses before they occur, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act will take a more preventative approach by stepping up federal audits of food facilities and establishing science-based, minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Though the Act is the most sweeping reform of FDA’s food safety authority in more than 70 years, the rules, unfortunately, won’t come any time soon since large farms have more than two years to comply with the final rules once they’re published and small farms have even longer. Bon appétit!

2012 was U.S.’s hottest year ever
It may be hard to fathom now as we spend our days bundled up in our coats and sipping away at mugs of hot chocolate, but it turns out that last year was the U.S.’s hottest year … ever, reports the New York Times. Of course, the culprit of this sweat-fest comes as no big surprise. Though natural variability always plays a role in weather, many scientists are pointing their fingers at climate change, which fueled last summer’s record-breaking heat wave and a drought. Even worse, scientists believe that last year’s record-hot temperatures are only a taste of things to come as continuing warming makes freakishly warm weather ever more likely.

In more dire news, glaciologists recently announced that they have underestimated the effects of climate change, and that ice sheets may melt faster than previously predicted, reports the UK's Independent. As a result, many glaciologists now believe there’s a one-in-20 chance of sea levels rising by a meter or more by as early as 2100, a change that could displace up to 187 million people within this century. Low-lying states such as the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh and many others will be particularly affected, which is why Earthjustice is working to slow Arctic melting in the near term by reducing emissions and short-lived climate forcers like black carbon and methane.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.