22 mil. pounds of plas­tics en­ter Great Lakes each year

The Korea Times - - ENVIRONMEN­T - By Tony Briscoe

CHICAGO — On a sunny Au­gust morn­ing at 31st Street Beach, Ty­rone Dob­son as­sem­bled 20 vol­un­teers to pick up lit­ter from the shores of Lake Michi­gan.

At first glance, the ef­fort seemed un­war­ranted. Af­ter all, the tire tracks from a Chicago Park Dis­trict beach groomer were still fresh in what ap­peared to be pris­tine sand.

But Dob­son, senior vol­un­teer en­gage­ment man­ager for the Al­liance for the Great Lakes, knew bet­ter. He in­structed the vol­un­teers to take a closer look. Peer­ing around their feet, the group no­ticed myr­iad pieces of trash en­meshed in the sand. They metic­u­lously plucked plas­tic straws, plas­tic bot­tles, plas­tic spoons, plas­tic wrap­pers and plas­tic bot­tle caps. Af­ter two hours of scour­ing the area, the group had col­lected 56 pounds of trash.

“Every beach has its own persona,” Dob­son said. “Loy­ola is fam­ily friendly so there will be di­a­pers and toys. Mon­trose and North Av­enue is party cen­tral so there will be beer cans. But on the whole, it’s al­ways a lot plas­tic.”

Plas­tics pol­lu­tion in global waters has be­come one of the most com­plex is­sues of the 21st cen­tury. Sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied gi­ant gyres of garbage ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in off­shore ocean cur­rents. Ex­am­i­na­tions of dead whales and other large ma­rine an­i­mals show they’ve in­gested plas­tic items, like garbage bags. Re­searchers say that plas­tic lit­ter in the oceans is poised to out­weigh the amount of fish by 2050.

Mean­while, mi­croplas­tics, par­ti­cles that start out smaller than 5 mil­lime­ters or are bro­ken down from larger items, have been found in the fall­ing rain in Colorado, car­ried by the wind to re­mote re­gions of the Pyre­nees moun­tains in France and sur­faced in drift­ing snow in the Arc­tic.

How­ever, it’s only been in the last decade that re­search into plas­tics pol­lu­tion has gained ur­gency in the Great Lakes, the planet’s largest sys­tem of fresh­wa­ter.

Plas­tic de­bris makes up about 80 per­cent of the lit­ter on Great Lakes shore­lines. Nearly 22 mil­lion pounds en­ter the Great Lakes each year — more than half of which pours into Lake Michi­gan, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates cal­cu­lated by the Rochester In­sti­tute of Technology. Re­gard­less of size, as plas­tics linger in the wa­ter, they con­tinue to break down from ex­po­sure to sun­light and abra­sive waves.

Mi­croplas­tics have been ob­served in the guts of many Lake Michi­gan fish, in drink­ing wa­ter and even in beer. Per­haps the most wor­ri­some as­pect is that the im­pact of mi­croplas­tics on hu­man health re­mains un­clear.

(Chicago Tri­bune/Tri­bune News)

Chicago Tri­bune-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Nathan Gold­berg, out­reach af­fil­i­ate with Al­liance for the Great Lakes, holds a bag with garbage that was col­lected dur­ing a clean-up event in Chicago on Aug. 22.

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