The huge and unregulated source of
pollution caused by plastics you’ve likely
never heard of


NEW ORLEANS – In the midst of a cloudy day in April, along the fringe of Chalmette Battlefield,
a few miles from the town, Liz Marchio examined a collection of broken twigs and branches of
trees on the banks of the Mississippi River. “Usually I’m trying to find a one” stated Marchio, an
associate of research for the Vertebrate Museum at Southeastern Louisiana University. She
bent her head to grab something using a pinch of her thumb and forefinger and put it on her
palm to be seen by me.

The object held by Marchio’s hand was small, round, and yellowish-white. It was about the size
of an ordinary lentil. It was similar to an egg-like salamander or fish or tadpole were to pop
through it. Marchio handed it over to me and then turned to flip it over a tree branch that was
floating in the water, and hundreds of others sat waiting beneath. She sounded displeasure. We
had gone for a hunt and swiftly found our quarry: only does.

A nurdle is an atom made of pure plastic. It is the primary element of nearly every plastic
product, such as any kind of synthetic ore. Their creators refer to them as “pre-production
pellets of plastic” also known as “resins.” Each year trillions of only does are created using
natural gas or oil transported to factories across the globe which are then melted and put into molds to turn out water bottles, steering wheels, sewage pipes as well as the thousands of other
plastic items that we utilize every day. It is likely that you are watching this article on the internet
using a device that is a part of an only.

It’s the perfect journey for a single-use item, but most of them fail to get safely to the final point
of the production line. While Marchio and I made our way toward New Orleans’ French Quarter
She began collecting her own nurdles from ziplock bags, noting in red Sharpie, the date, time,
and a number of beads collected, as well as the amount of time required to get the beads.

One time, on the levee’s side just outside an area known as the Lower Ninth Ward, she picked
up 113 nurdles within five minutes. This is not unusual an estimated 200,000 meters of nurdles
are thrown into the oceans each year. They are extremely light with a weight of about 20
milligrams each. So, under the present conditions, about 10 trillion of them are expected to be
absorbed into marine ecosystems all over the world every year.

hundreds of fish species which include those consumed by people -as well as at least 80
species of seabirds that consume plastics. Scientists are worried that the animals who consume
only do are at risk of blocking their digestive tracts and becoming starving. As important are the
consequences for beads over the long run as most plastics, they will not biodegrade, however,
they do degrade in time, becoming the second-largest source of microplastics in the ocean
following tires dust. (A nurdle, which is smaller than 5 millimeters, is a microplastic at the time of
its creation which is also known as microplastics that originate from the primary.)

There’s still a lot to know about the ways that plastics cause harm to the human body as well as
animals, however, recent studies have revealed that microplastics are present in the blood of up
to 80 percent of adults, and could damage the cells of our bodies. It’s possible that we don’t eat
plastic beads by ourselves however, they appear to be capable of returning to us.

In the majority of the United States, the federal and local governments deal with minor and
large-scale spills of nurdle in the same manner with almost no action. Nurdles aren’t classified
as hazardous or pollutant-free substances therefore they are not considered hazardous
materials or pollutants, so the Coast Guard, which usually is responsible for cleaning up oil spills
or other harmful substances that are absorbed into waterways does not have any responsibility
for them.

In addition, the majority of states have no regulations that govern monitoring the prevention,
cleaning, or eradication of up spills from nurdles. A spill can be an event that causes a lot of
confusion when state and local environmental agencies attempt to determine who should be
accountable for handling the issue. According to the federal government, and of every state,
except California that began regulating marine plastics as of 2007, the only does is in fact
invisible. In all respects, the only thing that counts is that a single one that escapes into the wild
could as be as likely to have escaped into the dark hole.

“Here in Louisiana we’re creating these only to die, and basically spilling oil, only in a different
manner,” said Mark Benfield who is one of the oceanographers at Louisiana State University who is studying microplastics “And nobody is aware of it, and nobody is doing something to
address it.”

Nurdles often escape the process of plastic production by getting into the drains of factories or
spilling out of cargo containers being transported by trains or ships. When they are loaded onto
trains, for instance, they’re usually transported into rail cars by huge hoses. The beads may leak
out through the edges of hoses in factories, and then out on the side of railway cars when they
journey to distribution centers. Benfield, as well as Marchio, have both discovered nurdles in the
rails’ side of tracks which are operated by trains with only does.

Sometimes an enormous spill, usually during transport — can release billions, or even millions of
nurdles across the world at once and cover shorelines with deposits that are so thick that they
might be misinterpreted as snowbanks.

In the month of May 2021, a container ship located off on the coastline of Sri Lanka caught fire
and fell, and released approximately 1,680 metric tonnes of beads in what the United Nations
called “the single largest spill of plastic ever recorded.” A year ago, in August 2020, a storm
struck an unmanned ship at the Port of New Orleans, knocking the container containing bags of
only does into the Mississippi River. A plethora of millions of beads flew out of their containers,
smothering the beaches of the area with white plastic, and soaring down towards the Gulf of
Mexico. They would remain there for years after the spill. Marchio pointed out a tiny dimple that
was visible on the bottom of the first nurdle that we discovered that indicated it was a likely
remnant of the spill.

“Big spills, such as from barges and ship containers … it happens only once or twice a year,”
said Jace Tunnell director of the University of Texas’ Mission-Aransas National Estuarine
Research Reserve, and creator of the Nurdle Patrol citizen science initiative which requires
participants to count the number of nurdles they see on their beaches and utilizes the data to
build a chart of pollution.

The map could be misinterpreted as an image of plastic production locations: The vast majority
of purple and red dots, which indicate the highest levels of only does, are found in the hubs for
petrochemicals in Texas as well as Louisiana. “What is happening every day — and is an
ongoing issue are the pellets being lost off-loading and on-loading, as well as during transport,”
Tunnell said.

The majority of plastic is not biodegradable and a spilled solely doesn’t disappear on its own. A
lot of them wash up on beaches, such as the ones Marchio and I walked along in which they
blend into the shells, sand, and other debris. If left unaffected, they’ll remain for hundreds or
perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.

A wild nurdle is a sly thing. Before it even begins to break down, it’s hard to see from afar unlike
plastic bags and bottles that are often associated with pollution from plastic. It doesn’t release
an odor or heat signature, emit gasses, or leave a shiny surface of the water in the same way
that an oil spill could. It does draw in toxic pollutants. A tiny noodle floating in for example, on the Mississippi River will absorb the contaminants that are floating along with it, as it sloughs off
it, Benfield explained to me. It also serves as a habitat for phytoplankton that can draw
zooplankton to plants as well as emit dimethyl sulfur which is also known by the smell that
emanates from the sea.

For many marine creatures, the scent of the ocean is the scent of food. Seabirds such as
albatrosses and petrels monitor dimethyl sulfide for patches of plankton at a distance flying
down to pluck their prey that eats plankton out of the water. A nurdle is about the dimension and
appearance of an egg fish Its camouflage is almost perfect after a few hours in the water. It
appears and smells like easy prey for birds, fish as well as turtles, and crustaceans alike.

After eating, nurdles may cause intestinal tangles and make it appear as if it’s full, explained
Benfield. A 1992 EPA report discovered that at the very least, eighty species of marine birds
consumed nurdles. Benfield claimed that the number has more than doubled since then.
Plastics is not a source of nutrients for animals, however, those that feed with the beads are
likely to eat less food due to this and could die without knowing that it was hungry — particularly
if their stomach isn’t large enough to pass through the nurdle. Photos taken in after the incident
from Sri Lanka showed fish filled with pellets, and white plastic covering their bodies.

Plastics can be endocrine disruptors which means they hinder the development of animals.
Researchers are currently studying the possibility of toxic pollutants passing through solely into
the tissue of an animal and then into the food chain. But determining the effects is difficult, due
to the fact that it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what causes a sea animal’s death in a climate
that’s becoming increasingly hostile to marine mammals.

To prevent spills from nurdles, such as Tunnell and Benfield could require many deceptively
easy modifications. Companies could place containers at the loading area to collect any only
does that are dropped during unloading and loading from rail cars. They can make storm drains
screen-like to collect beads that evaporate or construct the bags they’re packed in before
shipping out of stronger materials so that they are less likely to crack open. Workers can
double-check valves of rail cars to ensure they’re tight and clean out any spills of nurdles onto
the floors of factories.

Cleaning up the nurdles after they’ve spread throughout an ecosystem can be a challenge and
nobody wants to be accountable for it. Some of the most effective solutions thus currently
involve devices which are basically vacuums fitted with sieves that are able to filter sand out
while taking up the only does. However, they’re yet to be extensively studied and even used,
and they’re not much used in cleaning beads that have gotten into the water.

Nurdles have an impact on the environment even before they’re created in the first place, and
they also have a significant impact on the environment after. A large majority of plastics
manufacturing facilities within the United States are located close to communities of color that
are significantly impacted by pollution from industrial sources. The plants emit a poisonous
mixture of pollutants which include styrene, ethylene oxide, and benzene. There are a plethora of petrochemical facilities situated within Baton Rouge and New Orleans that the region is
popularly known as ” cancer alley.”

The tide is slowly changing: In the past the residents of Louisiana’s majority-black Street. James
Parish was able to hold off the building of a new massive plastics plant within their community
by arguing that they would suffer unjustified environmental damage, but the plants already
operating in the region will continue to release as well as the pollutants produced by them.

As the world shifts toward renewable energy sources and the demand for fossil fuels is
predicted to increase soon, the petroleum and natural gas sector is shifting toward plastic
production. The production of plastic is predicted to double in 2050 due to the fracking boom
that has taken place within the United States which makes natural gas very affordable to
manufacture. This will result in an increase in the production of only does. Researchers’ mind is
how the beads will eventually end up.

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