Presentation shows how plastics break down, poison us

Green Mountain Conservation Group Education Coordinator Tara Schroeder, right, and Quality Coordinator Jill Emerson, left, discuss GMCG's

Green Mountain Conservation Group Education Coordinator Tara Schroeder, right, and Quality Coordinator Jill Emerson, left, discuss GMCG's "Less Plastic Initiative" at Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth on May 22. DAYMOND STEER—Conway Daily Sun staff photo


Conway Daily Sun

Published: 05-31-2024 11:21 AM

Plastics in the environment break down and become absorbed by the human body, said speakers from the Green Mountain Conservation Group during a May 22 presentation at Cook Memorial Library.

Education Coordinator Tara Schroeder and Water Quality Coordinator Jill Emerson spoke to about a dozen people before Tamworth resident Amy Berrier presented the 2010 film “Bag It,” which documents her actor brother Jeb Berrier’s effort to stop using plastics while living in Telluride, Colo.

Jeb is known to many in Tamworth for emceeing the Silas Berrier Memorial Seek the Joy Comedy Nights in 2022 and 2023. (Silas died in a single-car accident in Colorado in 2021 at the age of 26.)

GMCG has been urging the public to use less plastic since 2016 and has created a curriculum around that topic for local students.

Emerson and Schroeder said that in 2021, when Green Mountain was conducting cyanobacteria surveys, they detected various types of plastics in their samples.

Through a grant from New Hampshire’s moose license plate program, GMCG got funding to do testing that involves using nile red dye and a blue light that “is literally a “’CSI’-like blood splatter light,” said Emerson, adding that plastics fluoresce in different colors.

“There’s literally no place on planet Earth you can go where you won’t encounter (plastics),” she said. “Marianna Trench, Mount Everest, North and South Pole. There’s plastic everywhere.”

Emerson said, “We’re trying to get the education out there to encourage people to reduce their plastic use, especially single-use plastics, and curtail our big plastic problem.” She said plastics are being found in human arteries, livers, kidneys and testicles. While it’s unknown how the plastics affect the human body, researchers are looking into it, Emerson said.

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GMCG board member Bob Pustell added that one study he read about found microplastics in human placentas.

“If it’s in the placenta, it’s most likely in the baby,” said Pustell.  

Students who take part in GMCG water sampling programs now realize that the problem is local, too.

“They come away understanding that this is a problem right here at home, not just far away,” said Schroeder.

One source of microplastics being released into water systems that people might not think about is when they do the laundry. “Nine million microfibers are released every time we do laundry,” said  Schroeder.

Solutions that Emerson and Schroeder suggest include trying to use less single-use plastics like water bottles, storing food in glass containers, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and keeping the “Four Rs” in mind — “Refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.” They also recommend participating in local trash cleanups.

Amy Berrier said that Jeb went to Telluride as a “ski bum” but then heard from a friend about how Colorado municipalities Aspen and Telluride were in a competition to get rid of single-use plastics.  

A friend and movie producer Suzan Beraza suggested that Jeb could go around interviewing people about plastic. They ended up making a documentary about Jeb’s efforts to cut down on plastics, particularly grocery bags.

“Single-use, disposable plastic,” says Jeb in the film. “Think about why would you make something that you’re gonna use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just gonna throw it away? What’s up with that?”

According to one expert quoted in the film, the 100 million plastic bags used in the U.S. a year, take 12 million barrels of oil to make.

According to “Bag It,” a chemical called BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastics has been linked by some scientists to such diseases as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and autism.

In the film, Jeb Berrier’s effort to reduce plastic use becomes more serious when he and his partner, Anne, decide to have a child.

The movie quotes Dr. Theo Colborn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, as saying plastics can alter the way children develop physically and mentally.

“The movie hits a sweet spot; they didn’t want to sort of whack you over the head with bad news,” said Amy Berrier, who does residential remodeling in Tamworth. “Jeb is a light-hearted guy, and he’s very approachable. So, it just blends a science and human interest story together in a wonderful way.”