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SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 11, 2019

SNIP: Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide.

The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds.

The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.

The scientists found 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 diarrhoea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis. While harmful in itself, E coli is also an indicator of sewage pollution.

A search of hundreds of beaches by volunteers across the UK found almost three-quarters of them are littered with tiny plastic pellets. Nurdles, which can be transparent or brightly coloured, are the bare building blocks of plastic goods, from single use water bottles to television sets, and get into the sea via accidental spillage from shipping containers or lorries. One estimate suggests that up to 53 billion nurdles are released annually in the UK from the plastic industry.

The researchers have only tested for two bacteria, but they believe nurdles could attract other pathogens, such as the rotavirus and norovirus, which also cause gastro-intestinal diseases.

Ecoli can survive between two to four weeks in water, while Vibrio and norovirus can survive for months in the sea.