Research finds very high concentrations of micro-plastics in The Great Lakes

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In a new and extensive research of The Great Lakes, researchers at 5 Gyres have found presence of plastic in high concentrations with the highest concentrations of micro-plastics observed in Lake Erie.

The research was carried out by The 5 Gyres Institute in collaboration with researchers from SUNY Fredonia and results of the first micro-plastic pollution survey of the Great Lakes Region have been published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“We found high concentrations of micro-plastics, more than most ocean samples collected worldwide. These were of similar size, shape, texture and composition to plastic microbeads found in many consumer products used as exfoliants, giving us circumstantial evidence that these products, designed to be washed down the drain, are not adequately being captured by sewage treatment”, said 5 Gyres’ Dr. Marcus Eriksen, lead author on the paper.

According to the research, the highest abundance measured was 466,000 particles/km2 with an average of 43,000 particles/km2 throughout all the samples. The highest concentrations of micro-plastics were observed in Lake Erie, and accounted for about 90 per cent of the total plastics found.

In addition to polyethylene and polypropylene beads found in the samples, there were also particles of aluminum silicate, or coal ash, a byproduct of coal fired power plants.

The institute has revealed that many of the companies targeted have agreed to phase out the use of these beads, namely, L’Oreal, The Body Shop, Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble.

Several states and municipalities have expressed a desire to consider legislation banning micro-plastics as ingredients in consumer products because of their tendency to escape sewage treatment. 5 Gyres is working with a team of advisors to produce model legislation for states to consider, added the press release.