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article imageResearcher warns of growing threat from plastics in Great Lakes

By Karen Graham     Nov 27, 2019 in Environment
Research from a leading international expert on the health of the Great Lakes suggests that the growing intensity and scale of pollution from plastics poses serious risks to human health and will continue to have profound consequences on the ecosystem.
Gail Krantzberg, is a professor in the Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Krantzberg does research in Science, Technology and Environmental Politics, public policy and Great Lakes governance.
In an article published this month in the Journal of Waste Resources and Recycling, Professor Krantsberg argues that while plastic waste in the oceans has generated widespread global attention, few people realize the problem is also getting much worse closer to home.
"We are increasingly detecting microplastics in the waters and fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes," she says. "A fish with a gut full of plastics cannot be a healthy fish and can, in fact, starve to death. We know this problem is increasing in severity."
Plastic can take up to 600 years to break down  eventually disintegrating into harmful micro-particl...
Plastic can take up to 600 years to break down, eventually disintegrating into harmful micro-particles that are ingested by fish and end up in people's food
Richard Barnden, GREENPEACE/AFP
Microplastics can vary in size, from less than 1 millimeter (or 0.039 inches) on up to 5 millimeters. Microplastics come from a range of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes.
Some microplastics are manufactured to be very tiny in size, such as those used in facial scrubs and toothpaste, while others are the product of the breakdown of larger plastics.
As for microplastic's distribution in nature - they have now been found in the ocean, streams, groundwater and even karst aquifers. We have found these insidious pieces of plastic in the Arctic, the Falkland Islands, and in the high reaches of the French Pyrenees, and the Rocky Mountains.
Despite the war on plastic bags  they are still a huge problem for the environment
Despite the war on plastic bags, they are still a huge problem for the environment
Munir UZ ZAMAN, AFP/File
So it is not surprising that microplastics have found their way into the Great Lakes, Krantzberg, in a press release, believes this is probably coming from several sources, including denser urban populations that naturally produce more waste - much of it plastics, increasingly severe storms which overwhelm municipal water treatment facilities sending runoff into the ecosystem and the failure of recycling efforts.
And this is not the first time an alert - or warning - has been in the news about microplastics in the Great Lakes. In 2013, a study by 5 Gyres Institute (an NGO) and SUNY Fredonia found a staggering amount of microplastics in the Great Lakes. These micro-plastics were believed to be micro-beads originating from body scrubs.
"It is hard to conceive of recapturing all the plastics that are now in the lakes, but we can make a difference by eliminating many unnecessary plastics from use such as plastic straws, cutlery, bags, and other disposable waste," Krantzberg says. "You don't need plastic bags for a bunch of grapes," she added, reports CTV News Canada.
More about Great lakes, microplastics, mcmasters university, Landfills, sewage plants
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