Environment

Tiny Plastic Bits Polluting Great Lakes

Tiny bits of plastic are polluting the world’s waterways, including North America’s Great Lakes.

Scientists are skimming the waters of the North American Great Lakes this summer to see how pervasive a pollutant known as “microplastic” has become.

The waterway’s ecosystems have already suffered other manmade ravages, such as invasive mussels brought in by shipping, industrial pollution and agricultural runoff that has triggered blooms of toxic algae.

But now scientists are finding increasing amounts of tiny plastic particles in the water and lake beds that are, in part, what is left when plastic bottles and other items break down over time.

But many of the particles are abrasive “microbeads” used in personal care products like body washes and toothpaste.

Manufacturers such as Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have announced plans to phase out the production of the pollutants, which are too small to be filtered out by municipal wastewater systems.

It’s not yet clear how long the microplastic pollution has been in the lakes or if fish are eating it.

Initial studies indicate Lake Erie is the most affected, since it receives outflow from lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron to the north.

But Lorena Rios Mendoza, a chemist with the University of Wisconsin, says that “Lake Ontario is as contaminated (with the particles) as Lake Erie, if not more so.”

New studies hope to find out if the particles are soaking up toxins in the water, possibly contaminating fish that eat them.

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