Chemical Hazard on Sandy Shores
By Jim Clugger
Just as the beach season is wrapping up in the northern stretches of U.S. shores, we are learning of a new beach hazard. Beachgoers were already concerned about too much sun exposure, the increasing population of great white sharks in the north Atlantic, and now a concern of our own making appears – Bisphenol A (BPA). A recent study in Environmental Research discovered that BPA is found on sandy beaches at much higher concentrations than in typical soil samples. The plastic-forming chemical compound is harmful to human health and is yet another example of how the global addiction to plastics is a public health as well as an ecological crisis.
As part of the newly published study, researchers obtained sand samples from 26 beaches around the world, including 7 in the U.S. The average concentration of BPA in the samples was found to be 4,247 parts per million (ppm), which is about 600,000 times larger than previously reported environmental soil averages by the EPA (0.0065 ppm). The highest levels of BPA that the authors found were on Greek beaches (215,000 ppm), approaching super fund site levels of contamination (320,000 ppm).
BPA is the most highly produced chemical of the bisphenol family. It is sold by at least 58 companies around the world. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxin. It can be absorbed through the skin as evidenced by studies of contact with thermal-print paper. BPA acts like a hormone in the human body, disrupting the normal hormonal process and hindering development in children and fetuses. Too much exposure to the chemical could cause brain development problems and behavioral issues in children.
The path of these chemicals to the beach is unclear as is the amount of time that they have been building up. One way to reduce the concentrations at beaches, or at least decrease the growth rate, is to reduce the supply at the source. Greater consumer awareness and a change of consumption habits is necessary to reduce the impact of these damaging chemicals.
BPA at sandy beaches is particularly concerning because of the combined factors of concentration and potential for skin exposure. BPA was found at sandy beaches in concentrations exceeding all previous soils apart from sewage sludges from wastewater treatment plants. Beach sunbathers and swimmers alike have significant amounts of exposed skin, increasing the potential of dermal absorption.
Of the 7 U.S. beaches that were part of the study, Florida has the highest level of BPA at 45,000 ppm, which is worrying because of the number of people that frequent Florida’s beaches year-round. The remaining U.S. beaches in descending order are Guam (4489 ppm), Massachusetts (909 ppm), San Francisco (653 ppm), Puerto Rico (514.6 ppm), Washington (439 ppm), and Los Angeles (423 ppm). While Guam and latter locations have BPA concentrations much lower than Florida or Greece, the concentrations are still approximately 60,000 times larger than previously reported soil averages.
Without a clear source of BPA at sandy beaches, aside from the original manufacturing, it is difficult to know what can be done to reduce BPA concentrations on sandy beaches and offshore waters. At Littorary, we are committed to eliminating plastics and other synthetic materials from our products wherever possible through innovative design and the use of quality materials. The path from the manufacture of BPA to our beloved beaches might be unknown, but BPA can still be cut off at the source. Reducing the use of plastics as much as possible is a clear direction that will benefit us all.