A research undertaken by scientists at the University of Stirling has revealed that harmful sewage pathogens can be carried over great distances once they attach themselves to tiny beads of plastic litter that washes into the oceans. In fact, “cholera in India can be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.
The scientists found that 45% of nurdles, the size and shape of a lentil, collected from five EU-designated beaches in East Lothian were polluted with E coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis.
“Understanding and knowing the risks is important,” said Dr Quilliam. “We need to think about exposure rates to humans of pathogens on plastic. Bathing water is regulated by EU directives, which check for E coli in the water. But they don’t check plastic particles that could be contaminated with E coli on the beach. Brightly colored nurdles are a magnet for children – and you wouldn’t want children putting these in their mouths.”