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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Pool Toys are Contaminating Waterways With Glitter and Microplastics

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Photo by Marita Kavelashvili on Unsplash
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As we move into August, some people are tempted to bring pool floaties and other plastic pool toys to lakes and rivers. Researchers at UC Davis are urging people to leave those floaties at home. If the toys rip or break, their glitter and microbeads are like a microplastic bomb that's impossible to clean up.

Microbeads or microplastics are pieces of plastic that are smaller than a grain of rice. They can either come from products that contain microplastics, like facial cleansers and makeup or be the result of larger plastics like plastic water bottles breaking down.

This summer, a researcher at UC Davis came across a pool toy that had ripped open, leaving thousands of tiny polystyrene balls strewn across the lake and beach. What could have been an ecological mess was thankfully avoided by volunteers in the community getting together to clean up the area.

Pool floaties are a small part of an already huge microplastics problem. A study done by UC Davis found that 8 trillion microbeads are emitted every day into U.S. waters. These plastics have devastating effects on wildlife.

“You can have animals consuming these plastics, which can cause their GI tract to get blocked and sometimes they consume so many plastics, it can actually cause starvation,” says Katie Senft, a field researcher at the Tahoe Environmental Sciences Center. “So they don't actually have room for real food into their bellies anymore.”

The microplastics also form a surface for chemicals and pathogens to cling to. As the plastics break down, it provides even more surface area for the pathogens to stick to. When these microplastics are eaten by smaller organisms, they build up in larger organisms, a process called bioaccumulation. The result of this process can be toxic.

Some ways to avoid contributing to the problem this summer is to leave the pool floaties at home and trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic products. Additionally, even things like synthetic clothing have microplastics, so avoiding these can have big impacts as well.