Marine Anthropogenic Litter

pp 117-140

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The Complex Mixture, Fate and Toxicity of Chemicals Associated with Plastic Debris in the Marine Environment

  • Chelsea M. RochmanAffiliated withAquatic Health Program, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Email author 


For decades we have learned about the physical hazards associated with plastic debris in the marine environment, but recently we are beginning to realize the chemical hazards. Assessing hazards associated with plastic in aquatic habitats is not simple, and requires knowledge regarding organisms that may be exposed, the exposure concentrations, the types of polymers comprising the debris, the length of time the debris was present in the aquatic environment (affecting the size, shape and fouling) and the locations and transport of the debris during that time period. Marine plastic debris is associated with a ‘cocktail of chemicals’, including chemicals added or produced during manufacturing and those present in the marine environment that accumulate onto the debris from surrounding seawater. This raises concerns regarding: (i) the complex mixture of chemical substances associated with marine plastic debris, (ii) the environmental fate of these chemicals to and from plastics in our oceans and (iii) how this mixture affects wildlife, as hundreds of species ingest this material in nature. The focus of this chapter is on the mixture of chemicals associated with marine plastic debris. Specifically, this chapter discusses the diversity of chemical ingredients, byproducts of manufacturing and sorbed chemical contaminants from the marine environment among plastic types, the role of marine plastic debris as a novel medium for environmental partitioning of chemical contaminants in the ocean and the toxic effects that may result from plastic debris in marine animals.


Monomers and additives Persistent organic pollutants Metals Cocktail of contaminants Toxicity