Herring gull eggs contaminated with plastic additives, study finds
Herring gull eggs have been found to be contaminated with chemical additives used in the production of plastic, researchers said.
One study looked for evidence of phthalates – a group of chemicals added to plastics to keep them flexible – in the eggs of newly laid herring gulls.
Researchers collected 13 eggs from sites in Cornwall and found all 13 contained the chemicals.
The study from the Universities of Exeter and Queensland found up to six types of phthalate per egg.
The chemicals work as pro-oxidants, potentially causing oxidative stress that can damage cells.
Professor Jon Blount, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, said: “Mother herring gulls pass essential nutrients to their offspring through their eggs.
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“This includes lipids that nourish developing embryos and vitamin E, which helps protect chicks from oxidative stress that can occur during development and at hatching.
“Unfortunately, our results suggest that mothers inadvertently transmit phthalates and lipid damage products – and eggs with higher phthalate contamination also contained greater amounts of lipid damage and less vitamin E.”
The researchers say the impact of their findings on the development of chicks is not yet known and more research is needed.
Phthalates – which are used in most plastic products and are easily released – can build up in living organisms by concentrating in fatty tissue.
While the study does not show where gulls acquired phthalates, they have already been found in species hunted by herring gulls, and birds are known to swallow plastic.
Professor Blount said: “Research on the impact of plastic on animals has largely focused on the entanglement and ingestion of plastic fragments.
“We know a lot less about the impacts of plastic additives on the body.
“By testing the eggs, our study gives us insight into the health of the mother – and it appears that phthalate contamination may be associated with increased oxidative stress, and mothers pass that cost on to their offspring through the egg.” .
“More research is now needed to find out how developing offspring are affected by exposure to phthalates even before they emerge as a newborn. “
The study received an initiator grant from QUEX and is published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.