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Scientists seek answers about plastics in oceans

Scientists researching marine debris say they've found chemicals such as DDT in tiny plastic fragments collected from coastlines around the world, but they're seeking answers to questions about how the plastics affect ocean creatures.

“Estuaries are famous for being able to trap particles,” said University of Washington scientist Joel Baker at a conference in Tacoma, Wash., this week on marine trash. “This might be an area where we would want to focus our investigation.”

No one knows the volume of plastic debris in Puget Sound or precisely where it originates, Alan Mearns a Seattle-based scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Most plastics enter the world’s marine waters from the land, Baker said. It’s not just beach debris or dumping. Plastics spill out of storm drains and persist in the treated sludge from sewer plants.

More than 260 animal species around the world consume plastic waste or get caught up in it, said Richard Thompson, a marine ecologist from the University of Plymouth, England. Even lugworms, a type of fish bait which lives in marine sediment, consume plastic. “They’re eating this stuff, but does it really do them any harm? I think that’s one of the questions we need to work on,” Thompson said.

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