Microplastics in the Great Lakes
Recently, a study from the University of Toronto found that almost 90% of the Great Lakes’ water samples over the last 10 years have levels of microplastics that are dangerous to wildlife. Because plastics take so long to break down, they create a large amount of microplastics, which are tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters long.
About 20% of the samples from the Great Lakes are at the highest level of risk, with the highest levels being found in tributaries to the lakes or around major urban areas like Chicago. The highest average levels are in Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario. Annually, nearly 22 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes from the United States and Canada, major contributors of which are believed to be wastewater treatment plants, microfibers from clothing in washing machines, and preproduction plastic pellets from manufacturing.
Because the Great Lakes supply drinking water to over 40 million people, hold almost 90% of freshwater in the US, and are habitats to 3,500 species of plants and animals, the pollution of this water source could cause significant impacts for all of us.
In order to help reduce the amount of microplastics in the lakes, levels must be monitored by governments. On a personal level, citizens can add filters to washing machines or storm sewers at manufacturing sites, as well as reduce their reliance on single-use plastics.