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NOAA Convenes Plastic Pellet Spill Response Workshop

SEPTEMBER 18, 2023 — On September 6 and 7, staff from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration participated in a workshop sponsored by the Office and facilitated by the University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center that explored what is known and uncertain about plastic pellets and what occurs when they are spilled into marine and coastal environments. The workshop was held in College Park, Maryland, and brought together over 50 experts from across the country as well as several international participants representing a diverse set of sectors, including federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, spill response groups, and academia.

Participants from the "Nurdle Spills in Coastal and Marine Environments Workshop" (Credit: University of New Hampshire)
Participants from the "Nurdle Spills in Coastal and Marine Environments Workshop" (Credit: University of New Hampshire)

Plastic pellets, also known as nurdles, are the tiny building blocks that are melted and molded to make many of the plastic products we use every day. They can vary in size, shape, and chemical composition and are critical to manufacturers around the globe. Plastic pellets are often shipped thousands of miles by trucks, trains, or ships, to reach manufacturing facilities. Unfortunately, these pellets are vulnerable to spilling at any point in their transit. And once spilled, they are incredibly challenging to clean up. A major plastic pellet spill can have significant environmental impacts (fish kills and direct impacts to protected marine species) and raise public concerns about seafood safety and human health impacts. 

The “Nurdle Spills in Coastal and Marine Environments Workshop” enabled participants to better understand what plastic pellets are and how, where, and in what form they are shipped. Participants learned about the fate and transport of spilled pellets in ocean and coastal environments. Presenters shared threats to the marine environments and coastal communities as well as response techniques and lessons learned from historic pellet spills. Over the two-day workshop, participants also had the opportunity to discuss the impacts and response processes and challenges in small groups using three different real-world scenarios. A subset of participants will continue investigating the topic and preparing to respond to plastic pellet spills.

Last updated Friday, September 22, 2023 12:01pm PDT