Plastics in Clean Water

Thava Palanisami

Thava Palanisami, PhD

Senior Research Fellow
The University of Newcastle Australia

Plastic Weathering in Water


The global pervasiveness of plastic pollution has wide-reaching consequences for planetary health. Oceans serve as the ultimate sink for mismanaged plastics, which are subject to physicochemical changes when exposed to natural forces determining the ultimate fate of plastic. Ageing and weathering processes result in the progressive fragmentation of plastic items into micro- and nanosized particles, facilitating the accumulation of harmful contaminants on the plastic surface which become bioavailable to marine organisms following ingestion. Humans may, therefore, be exposed to microplastics and associated chemical entities via the consumption of contaminated seafood. The environmental impacts of plastic weathering and potential human health risks are gaining attention by governments, scientists, educators and the general public; however, this area of research requires a multidisciplinary approach. Current literature lacks information on the role of the individual and compounding effect of weathering forces (UV radiation, fluctuating temperature, biofilm formation etc.) in determining the behaviour of polymers in the environment which is crucial for an informed risk assessment. In this talk, we will discuss the role of the various biotic and abiotic forces in altering the chemical and biological behaviour of microplastics which dictate their overall fate and toxicity. Improved understanding of the plastic weathering will not only help with the accuracy in risk assessment but also in developing treatment technologies.

About the Speaker

Dr. Thava Palanisami is a team leader for Plastics Research and Innovation at The Global Innovative Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials(GICAN), at the University of Newcastle.  He has more than 15 years of experience in the risk assessment and remediation of emerging contaminants. With support from the GICAN’s world-class analytical facilities, he has established a substantial capacity for focused research on Plastics. The principal aim of his team is to develop fundamental knowledge on the ageing and weathering of microplastics in the environment to improve the accuracy of ecological and human health risk assessment and develop solutions. Being a natural collaborator, end user-driven research is the enduring strength of his career, he is always open to collaboration from various stakeholders.

Currently, his team research on 12 different topics to fill the knowledge gaps and the remediation technologies developed in collaboration with his industry partners are ready to be implemented. Recently, Dr Thava Palanisami has developed treatment technologies to remove the Microplastics and other emerging contaminants from the whole of the water cycle. The quality of his research on plastics has been recognised with several invitations from reputed international organisations, including the National Academy of Sciences and European research council.

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