Spain investigates contamination of Atlantic shore by countless plastic pellets spilled from ship

Spanish prosecutors have initiated an inquiry following an increasing influx of minuscule plastic pellets washing ashore in northwestern Spain, as the Spanish daily El Pais reported on Monday.

Approximately a month ago, the Toconao container ship, chartered by shipping giant Maersk, reported the loss of several containers off the coast of Portugal. Although authorities couldn't promptly retrieve any containers, El Pais revealed that one of them carried about 1,000 sacs of tiny plastic pellets, each weighing 25 kilograms (55 pounds)—Greenpeace estimates roughly 22,500 pellets per pound.

A week after the spill, bags of pellets and countless loose plastic particles began appearing on the shores of Galicia in Spain. The pollution has recently intensified, prompting volunteers equipped with vacuums and tools to scour the sandy beaches. These pellets, known as nurdles, are less than 5 mm (0.20 inches) long.

On Monday, the government in the neighboring region of Asturias activated a pollution response plan as microplastics also started washing ashore there. While the Galician government declared a "level one" emergency, the central Spanish government urged them to elevate it to level two for increased resource deployment from Madrid.

The Galician environment minister stated on Monday that although the polyethylene terephthalate microplastics are "neither toxic nor dangerous," their removal from local beaches is imperative.

However, Carmen Morales, a marine ecotoxicology researcher at the University of Cadiz, expressed concern in Spain's Science Media Centre (SMC), describing the plastic spill as "terrible news" due to the pellets' "high persistence in the natural environment." She emphasized the difficulty in recovery due to their buoyancy and potential confusion by marine animals, leading to ingestion and associated risks such as physical damage, endocrine disruption, and exposure to toxic substances.

This incident echoes a similar environmental crisis in January 2023 when the French government took legal action over plastic pellet pollution on Brittany's beaches.

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