Two of the latest additions to the dictionary — nurdles and forever chemicals — paint an unpleasant picture of our stewardship of the planet.
Merriam-Webster added nearly 700 words to the dictionary in September. You can now find entries for nurdles and forever chemicals. If you care about the environment or your own health, these words should disturb you.
In a blog post at its own site, the dictionary maker lists an impressive list of words that may not be new to you, but are new to the dictionary.
Here are just a couple:
Merriam-Webster defines nurdles as plastic pellets that are usually less than two-tenths of an inch in diameter or length. They are raw materials from which plastic products are manufactured. Manufacturers typically melt down the pellets to make the products we use.
That doesn’t sound so terrible, right?
Environmentalists worry about them, however. They say the nurdle is “a common pollutant of global waters and beaches,” the definition adds.
The Marine Conservation Society in England blames accidental spillage and mishandling for billions of them ending up in the ocean. They say that can cause three major concerns:
- They soak up pollutants and become toxic
- They never disappear from the ocean completely; they just get smaller and smaller
- Marine animals and seabirds mistake them for food, allowing them to enter the food chain
The organization even launched “The Great Nurdle Hunt” to help collect and track where they’re coming from. It’s an effort to stop the polluters before they cause any more damage than they already have.
Forever chemicals, meanwhile, carry an ominous-sounding name. There are at least two chemicals that are considered “forever chemicals” because there seems to be no way to get rid of them.
The Environmental Protection Agency says per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or forever chemicals, are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time.
Scientists find them in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and the globe. Here’s an even more disturbing thought: many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals and are present at low levels in a variety of food products.
Researchers don’t yet have a handle on how much exposure is too much. They also don’t know for sure about long-term health effects, though some studies seem to show some harm.
Most disturbingly, when you look up “how to remove forever chemicals from the human body,” there’s essentially no known way to do so.
Maybe they’re not harmful, which seems unlikely. But if they are, there seem to be few answers about what we can do.
Several states are filing lawsuits against manufacturers linked to forever chemicals and contaminating the environment…and us. One of them agreed earlier this year to pay more than $10 billion to settle lawsuits over forever chemicals in drinking water. Time even speculated that the total of future settlements could eclipse tobacco lawsuit settlements.
The idea of accountability is nice, assuming the chemicals we’re already contaminated with don’t kill us before that money can be used to figure out a way to rid ourselves of them.
So nurdles and forever chemicals now appear in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. It’s a shame we needed to add those two words.