Microplastics in the Great Lakes – 89 percent. water samples exceed safety levels

Mikroplastik w Wielkich Jeziorach

Microplastics in the Great Lakes have become a serious environmental problem in recent years. The study, conducted by researchers from the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto and the IISD Experimental Lakes Area, found alarming levels of pollution from fine plastic particles (1 µm to 5 mm in size) that pose a serious threat to the aquatic environment. However, there is a chance to improve the situation if Canada and the United States take coordinated action. International cooperation is key to protecting the Great Lakes from further pollution.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes – a threat to the ecosystem

The Great Lakes, located on the border between the U.S. and Canada, are the largest collection of freshwater lakes in the world, storing about 20 percent of the world’s water. global surface freshwater supplies. The Great Lakes are a biodiversity hotspot, provide drinking water for 40 million people, drive a $6 trillion economy and create more than 1.5 million jobs in the US and Canada. Now, however, they face the risk of microplastic contamination.

As many as 89 percent. surface water samples taken from the Great Lakes region exceeded safety levels. This means that the water in these reservoirs is contaminated with microplastics to an extent that is harmful to the organisms living there. All sediment samples remained below the proposed level, demonstrating that microplastics mainly accumulate near the surface. Microplastics in the Great Lakes are most concentrated around metropolitan areas such as Chicago and Toronto, and at the mouths of large rivers. Particularly high average values were recorded in Lakes Michigan and Ontario.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes – sources of pollution

While there are a myriad of potential sources of microplastics, in the context of the Great Lakes, a few major causes can be identified: industrial waste, microplastic pollution, cosmetic products with microbeads, and everyday objects that break down into finer fragments over time. The problem is exacerbated by improper waste handling and a lack of effective treatment systems. As a result, microplastics in the Great Lakes pose a threat to the entire ecosystem.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes – effects on the ecosystem

Microplastics can be absorbed by aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans and plankton, leading to their physical damage, to disruption of digestive processes and to the presence of toxic substances in the food chain. In addition, microplastics can act as a carrier for other pollutants, such as heavy metals and pesticides, increasing their harm to aquatic organisms.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes – the need for action

In response to these alarming results, scientists are calling for action to protect the Great Lakes from further microplastic pollution. They recommend setting up a working group of local experts to develop an ecological risk assessment and management framework for the region.

The Great Lakes are covered by the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), a long-standing pact between the United States and Canada. It defines bilateral priorities and steps to solve environmental problems that cross borders in these lakes. However, the current version of the GLWQA does not include provisions for plastic pollution, which means there is no joint bi-national plan to address the problem. Microplastics in the Great Lakes should be included in the GLWQA to ensure coordinated and sustained action by the two governments.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes are a real challenge

The introduction of a bi-national monitoring system, the researchers suggest, is fraught with challenges. One way to simplify the process would be to add plastic microparticles to the list of controlled chemicals. The first such list was published in 2016. and included commitments to monitor and reduce their presence. Although different types of plastics pollute the planet, it is not difficult to identify their main sources: packaging and food containers. However, fine fibers from clothing or microscopic particles that are not visible to the naked eye pose a greater monitoring challenge.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes are a growing problem, and only rapid and coordinated intervention will save them from disaster. And this coordination is lacking. As Eden Hataley, co-author of the study from the University of Toronto, notes, information gatherers often do not communicate with each other or with decision makers. “The data comes from various research teams and non-profit organizations that operate independently of each other,” she – she stressed.

Microplastics in the Great Lakes is an issue that requires immediate intervention. In order to protect ecosystems and ensure safe water use, it is necessary to take measures to reduce microplastic emissions and develop effective strategies to manage this pollution. Only through the cooperation and commitment of all stakeholders will this global challenge be successfully met.


Image source: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE

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