Plastic bags can be poisonous, according to a recent scientific study. Researchers at Haereticus Environmental Laboratory and the University of Maine found that a chemical in plastic bags made to U.S. FDA food-grade specifications had high levels of a toxic chemical called nonylphenol.
The researchers of this study took an extensive look at the plastic bags used in the aquarium trade, like pet stores. The plastic bags are used to ship fish and other invertebrates from the wild to pet stores, as well.
Customers often bring their fish purchases home from the pet store to put in their own aquarium tanks. However, the researchers placed a species of cultured coral reef fish in these bags for 48 hours to emulate the time most coral reef organisms are kept in the bags when shipped from the wild and exported to the U.S. or Europe.
The plastic bag from one manufacturer killed 60 percent of the fish within the 48-hour incubation. Fish that survived being held in the bags all died within eight days of being released from these bags into an aquarium.
Dr. Downs, one of the authors of this study, had the following to say about fish purchased at pet stores and transported home in plastic bags to be placed in aquariums.
“This may explain why so many fish brought home from the pet store die soon after being placed into the owner’s aquarium tank. It may not be an issue of acclimatization of the fish to the tank, but the fish being poisoned before the customer ever gets it home.”
Professor Louis Guillette, a noted toxicologist, commented on this recent scientific study.
“This is a well done study that indicates that not all plastic is created equal even when labeled as identical. My concern is not only with the fish in this study, but what happens when food for children or pregnant mothers is stored in bags with a formulation similar to that of the PE2 bags in this study. We know that nonylphenol is an endocrine disruptor at lower concentrations as well as toxic at higher concentrations. Future studies need to survey a greater number of sources for such bags to determine the extent of the potential exposure and risk such bags have in various industries, whether for the transport of fish or food.”
Nonylphenol, found in most plastic bags, is an acute poison at high concentrations. It is also an endocrine disruptor at very low concentrations.
In addition, Environmental News Network points out that nonylphenol mimics estrogen, and low concentrations can cause feminization of fish, resulting in sterility of populations, threatening the existence of the entire species.
It’s no wonder cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin have totally banned the use of plastic bags outright, as reported in an article by the Washington Post.
This recent study on the toxicity of plastic bags is found in an issue of Chemosphere.
[Featured image via Cate Gillon / Getty Images]