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The Great Lakes and the plastic problem

Millions of microplastics litter Great Lakes

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, April 26, 2016, 4:34 PM - A professor at the University of Waterloo suggests there are at least half-a-million pieces of plastic per square kilometre in some parts of the Great Lakes, equivalent to 2,500 pieces of plastic per area the size of a football field.

Hans Durr, a professor with the Ecohydrology Research Group, told the CBC the tiny bits of plastic are a "serious threat" to the Great Lakes.

Plastic microbeads began making headlines in 2013, when the Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Survey started to hint at the staggering amount of plastic beads per square kilometre in the Great Lakes.

Microplastics -- small pieces of broken-down plastic that are less than 5 mm in diameter -- pose a threat to the fish and birds who may ingest them.

RELATED: 'Trillions' of pieces of plastic may be trapped in Arctic ice

One large source of microplastics come from tiny beads found in a wide range of personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpaste. The beads are made from polyethylene -- the same material used to make plastic water bottles -- and they're approved to be used in a wide range of personal care products in Canada and the U.S., although several provinces and states are moving to ban them.

Industry officials say the beads have been used to "enhance the visual appeal" of products and offer no health benefits.

More research needs to be done about the health risks posed by microbeads, but the CBC points out the plastics do contain toxic material.

"The danger is that the plastics can enter the food chain, so the plastics can possibly go to humans as well," Durr told the CBC.

"If the plastics get into [fish] tissue [and], we consume them, then we definitely have an issue down the line."

The technology to clear the plastics from the water remains expensive and not practical according to Durr, meaning the best solution to minimizing plastics in the water is to phase out the use of plastic products.

Source: CBC


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