Jeanette Rotchell's research into the biological effects of environmental contaminants at the molecular level, such as microplastics, has wide-ranging implications for wildlife and human health. She is working to ensure the right regulatory frameworks to help mitigate the effects.
Jeanette and her team, comprising colleagues from the Department of Biological and Marine Sciences and Hull York Medical School, have discovered the presence of microplastics and other debris in our waterways, in shellfish and, latterly, even in our homes, posing potential health risks.
Microplastics are small plastic pieces, less than 5mm long, that come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, and from microbeads. Microbeads are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added to health and beauty products, such as some cleansers and toothpastes. In addition, home furnishings and clothing shed small-sized fibres and these are likely responsible for the high levels of microparticles in the air in our homes.
In June 2021, Jeanette organised and led a 3-day bilateral microplastic workshop, in collaboration with the Newton Fund and National Natural Science Foundation of China. She was joined at the workshop by 30 early career researchers (ECRs), 15 each from the UK and China, to build a network of scientists who tackle together issues relating to microplastics.
Jeanette works with many external collaborators at other universities worldwide as well as regulatory authorities, and local government colleagues. She was the project lead for ‘Sullied Sediments’, a wide-ranging partnership that included public, private and third sector organisations based in the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Last month, the Interreg Highlights blog published an article called ‘Driving a Tox-free Europe’. Jeanette was one of two lead contributors. Some of her research has involved testing for the presence of pharmaceuticals in UK estuaries, focusing on the Humber estuary.
Jeanette is currently chairperson for the East and North Yorkshire Waterways Partnership.