Understanding the Threats of Microplastics Using Nuclear Science


Penulis: Bintang Krisanti - 29 October 2018, 05:30 WIB
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PETER Swarzenski immediately showed a photograph when the topic of microplastics was mentioned. The photo, that he grabbed from the bottom of a pile, appeared to be an enlarged image of artemia, also known as brine shrimp. The artemia's body was covered in green dots from head to tail.

"Artemia is at the bottom of the food chain. We raise them in the lab and there is dyed microplastics and they (Artemia) take it in because they think it is food," said Swarzenski while pointing at the green dots on the picture. Swarzenski is the head of Radioecology Laboratory at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Environment Laboratories in Port Hercule, Monaco.

Earlier this month (10/18), Swarzenski welcomed journalists from Indonesia and officers from the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna to discuss the application of nuclear technology in the marine issues, including microplastics waste. Research on microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters in diameter) impacts and even nanoplastics (1,000 smaller than algae cell) on the aquatic organisms have been carried out for some time by the IAEA, as microplastic problems have become more apparent in many IAEA country members.

At one of the IAEA's laboratories, Mr. Swarzenski showed where they cultured the artemia that they've fed with dyed-microplastics. He and his team have also developed nuclear techniques to trace microplastics in aquatic organism.

Researchers track the plastic particles in the organism using applied nuclear techniques called radioactive tracking (radiotracer). It is done by inserting chemicals that have been given radioactive treatment into plastic particles. "The ten thousand dollar question is, is it going from digestion into the blood? Because there are some evidence that showing it is in brain the already. So it is transfering," explained Swarzenski.

Furthermore, Swarzenski who has been leading the Radioecology Laboratory for two years now said that his team have discovered four ways of microplastics transfer. Besides food, microplastics can enter an organism through water, sediment and transfer from parent to embryo. Transfer from sediment often occurs in benthic fish (those that live on or near the bottom of the sea, regardless of its depth).

The study done by Radioecology Laboratory is an eye-opener on how dangerous microplastic waste is. Especially since artemia is the primary food for many kinds of fish. In many cultures, eating the whole fish including its gastrointestinal tract and brain is a common thing. There are even particular kinds of fish, many would argue, that taste better when consumed as a whole. If that's the case, people will have difficulties in preventing microplastic disaster unless they seriously solve the plastic waste problem in the ocean.

The Source
Cleaning up the ocean from plastic trash is an onerous task and would not be enough to stop the disaster that can be caused by microplastics. All countries should work together and solve the problem from the root. Swarzenski said the source of microplastic waste in the ocean come from body care products, clothes/garments, and tires. Microplastics from body care products are found in plastic grains used as scrubs.    

While in clothing, microplastic waste is produced when clothes that are made from synthetic fibers are washed and dried. During these process, many small fibers will disengage and enter the waters. "Eighty percent of microplastics in the ocean are from tires. The break down of tires while driving. It goes into the ocean by runoff," said Swarzenski.

Separately, IAEA Environment Laboratories Director David Osborn said nuclear science and technology give a broad advantage for microplastics research. "Microplastic is an interesting area that we are starting to work with here. It takes time to know the exact impact of microplastics. The beauty of nuclear science is you can trace where it is going. It is a long way to go but it is interesting science," Osborn said.

In the study done by Swarzenski and his team, that was published online in July 2018, in the Journal of Environment Radioactivity Volume 192, it is said that radiotracer techniques can provide critical new information on microplastic interactions and biological impacts within the aquatic environment.

Specifically, these tools have the potential to help fill important knowledge gaps that include: 1) the influence of microplastics on bioaccumulation and bioavailability of contaminants and essential elments to aquatic organisms; 2) the evaluation of biokinetics, biodistribution and potential biological impact; and 3) the sorption and desorption kinetics of trace pollutans to microplastics.

The functionality of the latter is increasingly important since plastic is also known to have the ability to absorb chemicals in the environment and transfer them to aquatic biota through digestion or body contact. Thus, the threat arising from microplastic waste is not only the plastic contaminants themselves but other chemicals that they carry.

However, that is not all, there are more dangers that microplastics can pose, such as concerns that plastic accumulation can affect an organism's gender development. In Indonesia, microplastics effects on fisheries have been studied by a non-governmental organization, Ecoton. In July this year, Ecoton studied fishes from Brantas River, East Java and found fibers that are suspected to be plastic and are commonly used in diapers. They also suspected that microplastics also affects fish's gender development. (M-2)


Memahami Petaka Mikroplastik dengan Teknologi Nuklir

 

PETER Swarzenki segera menarik sehelai foto ketika disinggung soal mikroplastik. Foto yang semula ada di tumpukan bawah berkas di meja kerjanya itu ialah foto pembesaran artemia. Pada tubuh organisme yang kerap disebut juga Brine shrimp  terdapat banyak bintik hijau, dari dekat ekor hingga kepala.

 

"Dalam rantai makanan, artemia ini berada di tingkat bawah. Di lab, kami beri mereka mikroplastik dan mereka makan itu karena mereka pikir itu makanan," tutur Swarzenski sembari menunjuk bintik-bintik hijau tadi. Swarzenski adalah Kepala Bagian Laboratorium Radioekologi dari Laboratorium Lingkungan Badan Tenaga Atom Internasional (IAEA) yang berlokasi di Port Hecule, Monaco.

Kamis (18/10), Swarzenski menerima jurnalis dari Indonesia dan staf (diganti jadi pejabat. IN ENGLISH: officer) US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna untuk menjelaskan mengenai aplikasi teknologi nuklir dalam permasalahan kelautan, termasuk sampah mikroplastik. Penelitian tentang dampak mikroplastik, dan bahkan nanoplastik, pada organisme akuatik telah beberapa waktu ini dilakukan IAEA, seiring dengan menguatnya isu tersebut di banyak negara anggota IAEA. Mikroplastik berukuran 50 mikrometer-5 milimeter, sementara nanoplastik berkisar 1.000 kali lebih kecil dari sel alga.

Hari itu, Swarzenski lalu membawa kami ke lab tempat Artemia dipelihara dan diberi makan mikroplastik yang telah diwarnai. Selain itu Swarzenski dan timnya juga telah meneliti dengan mikroplastik yang diberi radioaktif. Keberadaan plastik dalam tubuh organisme kemudian dilacak menggunakan teknik terapan nuklir, yakni pelacakan radioaktif (radiotracer).

Teknik itu dilakukan, pertama dengan memasukkan bahan kimia yang telah diberi radioaktif ke dalam partikel plastik. Pancaran radioaktif itulah yang kemudian dilacak oleh peneliti. "Memang pertanyaan besarnya apakah (mikroplastik) itu sudah terserap sampai ke darah? Pertanyaan itu belum terjawab, namun, sudah ada bukti ditemukan di otak. Jadi betul, terjadi perpindahan mikroplastik," jelas Swarzenski.

Lebih jauh, pria yang memimpin Lab Radioekologi sejak 2 tahun lalu itu mengungkapkan jika timnya telah menemukan empat cara transfer mikroplastik. Selain melalui makanan, mikroplastik juga masuk ke tubuh organisme melalui air, sedimen, dan transfer dari induk ke embrio. Transfer dari sedimen kerap terjadi pada ikan bentik (hidup di dasar perairan).

Meski belum diketahui mengenai penyerapan mikroplastik hingga ke darah, penelitian Lab Radioekologi ini telah membuka mata akan mengerikannya dampak limbah tersebut. Terlebih di alam, artemia merupakan sumber pangan bagi berbagai jenis ikan. Di berbagai budaya pula, mengonsumsi ikan secara keseluruhan termasuk saluran cerna dan otaknya, merupakan hal lumrah. Bahkan, memang ada jenis-jenis ikan kecil yang nikmat jika dikonsumsi secara keseluruhan. Dengan begitu, manusia akan sangat sulit mencegah petaka mikroplastik kecuali dengan serius menanggulangi limbah plastik di lautan.

Sumber
Menghentikan petaka mikroplastik tidak cukup dengan membersihkan sampah plastik di laut. Meski tugas itupun jelas sudah berat, negara-negara dunia juga harus berkerja untuk mencegah polutan sejak dari sumbernya. Swarzenski menyebutkan sumber cemaran mikroplastik di laut adalah produk perawatan tubuh, pakaian, dan juga ban kendaraan. Mikroplastik dari produk perawatan tubuh terdapat pada bulir-bulir plastik yang digunakan sebagai scrub

. Sementara pada pakaian, limbah mikroplastik muncul saat pakaian yang dibuat dari serat sintetis dicuci.

Pada pencucian itu, banyak serat-serat kecil akan terlepas dan masuk ke badan air lewat saluran pembuangan. "Namun, nyatanya 80% sumber polutan mikroplastik itu dari ban kendaraan. Setiap kali ban bergesekan dengan jalan, serat plastik akan terdegradasi dan kemudian terbawa air run-off," tuturnya.

Terpisah, Direktur Lab Lingkungan IAEA David Osborn menuturkan, jika kegunaan teknik aplikasi nuklir tidak hanya berhenti pada pemindaian penyerapan mikroplastik. "Kita juga dapat mencari tahu dampak-dampak selanjutnya. Inilah keindahan dari teknologi nuklir, kamu dapat melacak ke mana saja bahan itu pergi. Ini memang jalan yang masih panjang, namun ilmu yang sangat menarik," ujarnya.

Dalam penelitian Swarzenski dan rekan-rekannya yang telah diterbitkan pada edisi 192 dari Journal of Environment Radioactivity, dijabarkan bahwa teknik radiotracer dapat pula dimanfaatkan untuk menjawab permasalahan lain dari dampak mikroplastik. Di antaranya adalah mengetahui dampak akumulasi biokontaminan mikroplastik terhadap elemen-elemen esensial biota; mengukur biokinetik, biodistribusi dan potensi dampak biologikal; mengetahui transfer partikel plastik kecil yang masuk sebagai makanan untuk biota; hingga mengetahui penyerapan berbagai jenis kontaminan pada jenis plastik yang berbeda.

Kegunaan yang terakhir ini semakin dirasa penting karena plastik diketahui juga mmeiliki kemampuan menyerap bahan-bahan kimia di lingkungan dan mentransfernya ke biota akuatik melalui pencernaan ataupun kontak tubuh. Dengan begitu ancaman yang muncul dari limbah mikroplastik ini bukan hanya kontaminan plastik itu sendiri melainkan bahan-bahan kimia lain yang juga terbawa olehnya.

Lagi-lagi petaka belum berhenti di situ. Terdapat kekhawatiran pula, akumulasi plastik memengaruhi gender organisme. Di Indonesia, dampak buruk mikroplastik pada perikanan telah diteliti lembaga swadaya Ecoton. Pada Juli, lewat pembedahan lambung ikan yang hidup di Kali Brantas, Jawa Timur, Ecoton menemukan serat yang diduga sebagai plastik yang berasal dari popok. Peneliti Ecoton menduga mikroplastik juga memengaruhi perkembangan gender ikan. (M-2)

 

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