Category: Sustainability

Microbeads the science behind the risk

There’s a new viewpoint article in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology that calls for a ban on the use of microbeads, based on available evidence, and that has been causing something of a stir. The authors argue that the number of microbeads being washed into the environment from personal care products raises sufficient concerns to justify replacing them with alternative materials, or removing them from products altogether. These small beads of plastic – usually polyethylene – are added to many personal care products products like facial scrubs, shampoos, and even toothpaste – as an exfoliant.  The problem is, they are designed to wash down the sink, where they get into environmental water systems.  And because they don’t degrade, they accumulate, and eventually enter the food chain. More worryingly, they have a tendency to adsorb toxic materials such as dioxins – making them even more worrisome. Totally serendipitously, the latest video from Risk Bites takes a look at the science behind microbead risks. – worth watching as a quick and understandable primer on the issue. The video was made in collaboration with Ana Sophia Knauf, who is the author of a new series on cosmetics, health and the environment on  It also had valuable input from Professor Sherri (Sam) Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonioa – a leading expert on microbead contamination. One comment from Sam that isn’t highlighted particularly in the video – but is important – is that microbeads are just one segment of the growing issue of microplastics in bodies of water.  These millimeter-sized fragments of plastic are what becomes of the masses of plastic products we discard into the environment and that make their way into our rivers, lakes and oceans.  Sam pointed out that, because these fragments are often odd sizes, they have

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Cross-posted from Risk Sense This week’s Risk Bites video takes a roller-coaster ride through some of the hottest topics in risk science. Admittedly this is a somewhat personal list, and rather constrained by being compressed into a two and a half minute video for a broad audience. But it does touch on some of the more exciting frontier areas in reducing health risk and improving well-being through research and its application. Here are the five topics that ended up being highlighted: BIG DATA   Despite pockets of cynicism over the hype surrounding “big data”, the generation and innovative use of massive amounts of data are transforming how health risks are identified and addressed. With new approaches to data curation, correlation, manipulation and visualization, seemingly disconnected and impenetrable datasets are becoming increasingly valuable tools for shedding new insights into what might cause harm, and how to avoid or reduce it. This is a trend that has been growing for some years, but is now rapidly gaining momentum. Just four examples of how “big data” is already pushing the boundaries of risk science include: High throughput toxicity screening, where rapid, multiple toxicity assays are changing how the potential hazards of new and existing substances are evaluated; “Omics”, where genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, exposomics and similar fields are shedding new light on the complex biology at the human-environment interface and how this impacts on health and well-being; Risk prediction through the integrated analysis of related datasets; and Designing new chemicals, materials and products to be as safe as possible, by using sophisticated risk data analysis to push risk management up the innovation pipeline. CLOUD HEALTH, or C-HEALTH   Hot on the tails of mobile-health, the convergence of small inexpensive sensors, widespread use of smart phones and cloud computing, is poised to revolutionize how risk-relevant

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2020 Science is the personal blog of Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites


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