Friday, July 5, 2013
Plastic pollution a problem in the Great Lakes
Posted July 2, 2013 by Sharon Hill in WindsorStar.com
Tiny bits of plastic found in cosmetic products from toothpaste to body washes are posing a growing pollution threat to the Great Lakes, according to researchers.
The first survey of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes discovered spots in Lake Erie with more than 450,000 plastic particles per square kilometre, double what similar surveys have found in oceans, the study’s principal investigator Sherri Mason said Tuesday.
“We’re plasticizing our water,” said Mason, an associate chemistry professor at the State University of New York’s College at Fredonia, N.Y.
The research, which was done from the Flagship Niagara, a reconstructed flagship of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, found plastic microbeads in surface water samples last year from lakes Superior, Huron and Erie. Mason was on the Detroit River in May conducting more research. The study has been submitted to a marine pollution journal but is not published yet.
Mason said they were collecting bits of plastic less than a millimeter in size in fine netting dragged behind the boat. The majority of the particles appear as spherical balls when seen under a microscope.
Microbeads come from all sorts of personal care products and give a creamy feel to cosmetics and lotions.
Mason did the study with the 5 Gyres Institute which researches plastic pollution in oceans and has a campaign against microbeads.
Marcus Eriksen, the institute’s executive director and the lead author of the study, said microbeads are the same size and color as many kinds of fish eggs and absorb chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and flame retardants in our lakes. This could allow a path for pollutants to enter the food chain, he said.
“There could easily be billions of microplastic particles in the Great Lakes system,” Ericksen said via email Tuesday.
The campaign to get consumers to stop using products with microbeads and to get manufacturers to stop making them has prompted Unilever, Body Shop and Johnson & Johnson to say they will discontinue using them by 2015, Eriksen said. Those companies could be joined by 2017 by Proctor & Gamble.
The amounts found by the researchers ranged from 600 plastic particles per square kilometer to 460,000 per square kilometre. The larger amounts were found in Lake Erie near Erie, Penn., across from Long Point. Near Essex County, researchers found about 6,000 plastic particles per square kilometre.
More research is being done to determine what type of plastic they are finding and if it is being found in fish. More samples will be taken in Lake Ontario in July and Lake Michigan in August.
Mason said product labels may identify microbeads or micro abrasives. Microbeads can also show up as polypropylene or polyethylene on the label, she said.
Some products use natural abrasives such as apricot seeds, almonds or cocoa beans, Mason said.
Plastic microbeads aren’t being directly studied by the International Joint Commission but they are on scientists’ radar, said John Nevin, the public affairs adviser at the IJC Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor.
The IGC has been collecting research on the impact of personal care products since 2007 and it would be good to have more research on the plastic, he said.
Plastic microbeads are not found in drinking water since they cannot get past the finer filters, Nevin said.
While you may have heard of the great Pacific garbage patch of trash in the ocean, these microbeads are the next big marine debris concern, said Kirk Havens, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the graduate school of marine science for the William and Mary College.
Havens is testing a biodegradable polymer that could be eaten by bacteria as a replacement for the plastic.
He said the non-degradable plastic microbeads which can be ten to a few hundred microns in size, like dust or a miniscule flake of cayenne pepper, are in many cosmetic products. They go on the skin smoothly, feel creamy and are good for filling in wrinkles, Havens said. But they never really go away and we keep adding them to our lakes.
“You don’t really want to know all the things they are in,” he said listing toothpaste, sunscreen, lip gloss, eyeliner, shampoo, deodorant, soaps and exfoliating creams.