Haitian Studies Association

Environment Blog, Working Group - Environment

Microplastics and Environmental Health: Identification of the Environmental Hazards in Haiti

Welcome to the HSA Working Group on the Environment's blog series. For information on how to contribute your work, please contact Gary Gervais, ggervais@hushmail.com, or Lois Wilcken, makandal@earthlink.net.



by Daphenide St-Louis
Ph.D. student affiliated with the Climate Change Research Team (ERC2)
“Society and Environment Doctoral Program” (EDSE)
at Quisqueya University of Haiti (UniQ)

Plastics, originally designed to improve human living conditions, have become one of the most ubiquitous materials and also a real environmental concern. They represent one of the fastest growing fractions of municipal solid waste with production increasing from 1.5 million tons in the 1950s to 335 million tons in 2016. Plastic debris accounts for around 60 to 80% of all marine litter and reaches 90 to 95% in some regions (St-Louis et al., 2021).

Over the past several decades, various studies have highlighted the impact of microplastics (MP) on living organisms. By definition, MP refers to all plastic particles with a size less than 5 mm in diameter according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency of the United States (NOAA). They are themselves pollutants and act as vectors for the transport of various types of chemicals in natural ecosystems. Depending on their characteristics, they are easily introduced into the environment by wind and heavy rains and persist there due to their low solubility. They can be found in: seawater, freshwater, agroecosystems, atmospheric, food and aquatic environments, drinking water, natural biota as well as other remote locations (Lambert et al., 2014).

The scientific literature reports negative impacts of MP on feeding patterns, growth and reproductive systems of many marine organisms. For example, in large filter-feeding organisms (certain species of fish, mollusks, whales, etc.), cellular intoxication has been documented by the inadvertent ingestion of MP with other pollutants attached. The main source of human contamination is the ingestion of foodstuffs, especially small fish and other seafood eaten whole, and the inhalation of air and dust particles containing MP. Indeed, they have been found in the gastrointestinal tract, circulatory system, lymph, and various tissues and cells. In the food chain, the fate and toxicity of MP in humans are topics of active research interest with a serious lack of detailed knowledge that deserves further research.

To better approach the issue of plastic and MP waste management in Haiti, it is necessary to observe the waste management system as a whole. Currently, solid waste management is practiced in the context of rapid population growth and extreme urban poverty. Urban cleanliness and its variations over time highlight a gap between the objective of effective waste management services (to make and maintain the city clean) and the realities on the ground. Hence the bay of Port-au-Prince is the natural receptacle for all kinds of waste. In addition, they have a production of 1,673,750 tons per year of household waste, including 93,730 tons of plastic waste, which is not collected (Bras, 2010). Thus, the vacant spaces, the voids in the urban fabric of Port-au-Prince very quickly become spaces of “public dumping.” The combination of the low rate of garbage collection and high human densities accentuates insalubrity in the city and represents a risk factor not only in terms of human health but also on the environment. In addition, the negative impacts (pollution, nuisance, proliferation of rodents and insects, disease risks, etc.) resulting from the amount, nature and unsuitable waste management methods (landfilling with the other categories, combustion in the open air, poor odor management, lack of animal control, lack of information), are generally very pronounced. With the tropical temperature of Haiti and the average daylight duration (12 hours/day), plastic materials could degrade more quickly into microplastics.  In addition,  the ecosystem could be exposed to enhanced climatic risks, especially due to the acidification of the oceans (Emmanuel et al., 2009).

Figure 1. Conceptual model illustrating the potential effects produced
during the degradation of polymer-based materials (Lambert et al., 2014)

On August 9, 2012, the Haitian government issued an order prohibiting the production, import, marketing and use, in any form whatsoever, of polyethylene bags and expanded polystyrene objects (EPS, PS or Styrofoam) for single food use. On July 10, 2013, a second order similar to the first was issued. In support of the second, the Ministries of the Environment, Justice and Public Security, Trade and Industry, and Economy and Finance announced in a note published in January 2018, the deployment of specialized brigades to force the application of the said order. Despite these decrees and the presence of the National Solid Waste Management Service (SNGRS), waste management in Haiti remains an unavoidable challenge (Popescu et al., 2014).

Figure 2. Uncontrolled dumping of expanded polystyrene (EPS or PS or Styrofoam)
waste in the largest urban water drainage in Port-au-Prince
Credit: https://www.gafe-haiti.org/spip.php?article114
(Accessed March 30, 2021) St. Louis et al. 2021

The presence of MP in the environment generates global environmental health hazards. Human exposure to MP can lead to potential health risks. In view of the uncertainties and gaps in the evidence concerning the direct effects of MP on human health, there arises the need to initiate research programs on terrestrial ecosystems as well as dose-response relationships in humans. In Haiti, beyond the urgency of reviewing its public policies on waste management and the pollution of ecosystems by MP, it is up to the government of Haiti to initiate real research work in the field of marine ecotoxicology. We must appeal to multidisciplinary approaches, sensitization and popular awareness. We can start in Haiti by linking human health, animal health and environmental health.

Bibliographic References

Bras, A. (2010). Éléments pour une définition de la problématique de la propreté urbaine en Haïti: le cas de Port-au-Prince (Doctoral dissertation, thèse de doctorat, Université Quisqueya & INSA de Lyon).

Emmanuel, E., Balthazard-Accou, K., & Joseph, O. (2009). Impact of urban wastewater on biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. Environmental Manage-ment, Sustainable Development and Human Health. In: Laboy-Nieves EN, Schaffner FC, Abdelhadi AH and Goosen MFA, editors. Environmental Management, Sustainable Development and Human Health. Taylor and Francis Group, London UK, 399-422.

Lambert, S., Sinclair, C.J., Boxall, A.B.A. (2014). Occurrence, degradation, and effects of polymer-based materials in the environment. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 227:1–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-01327-5_1.

Popescu, R., Durand, M., & d’Ercole, R. (2014). La gestion des déchets post-catastrophe à Port-au-Prince: entre relégation et proximité. EchoGéo (30).

St-Louis D., Apply A., Michel D., & Emmanuel E. (2021).  Microplastics and environmental Health: assessing environmental hazards in Haiti. European Scientific Journal, ESJ. DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.98371. “Environmental Health”, IntechOpen, 978-1-83968-721-1: http://www.intechopen.com/books/environmental-health.


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