A YOUNG Huddersfield University lecturer has won a top award for discovering the harm plastic bags can cause to the environment and people's health.
Dr Laura Waters, 25, has been awarded a Royal Society of Chemistry Award for her work.
She discovered that chemicals used to make plastic bags can change the sex of fish and be a possible cause of cancer in people.
This is because discarded bags get into the soil. Over time, chemicals leak out and get into streams, rivers and lakes.
Plastic bags are a problem worldwide - and Huddersfield is no exception, with about 100m being used in Kirklees each year.
That's 250 per person.
Dr Waters joined Huddersfield University last September, having just completed her PhD.
She is the country's youngest chemical lecturer and youngest ever Royal Society of Chemistry council member.
The award she won is the society's Young Scientist Award (thermal methods group).
All plastics contain chemicals called dialkyl phthalate esters, which are also used in cosmetics, perfumes and insect repellents.
If plastic bags get into the soil - and they often do - then over time the chemicals leak out and can then find their way into the soil, streams, rivers and lakes.
Dr Waters said: "These chemicals have been detected all over the world.
"The concern is that we know they are estrogen mimics, in that they can turn male fish into female fish.
"We also believe they may be a possible cause of cancer."
The award was open to scientists aged 35 and under who are working in the UK. Dr Waters's paper was entitled Saturation Determination of Micellar Systems using Isothermal Micro-calorimetry.
"My research comprised three stages," said Dr Waters, who graduated in pharmaceutical chemistry.
"Firstly, does the pollutant get from the soil or river into a system similar to human cells and is it a problem?
"How much gets in? And, how do we remove the problem from the environment?"
She added: "The next step is to get more detailed data and to `optimise' a way to remove the problem.
"The best thing would be to avoid the chemicals ending up in the soil in the first place!"