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Plastics in Lake Erie

Monday, April 22, 2013 at 6:00 AM

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Today is Earth Day--an annual observance started in 1970, a year after the historic burning of the Cuyahoga River. The region's since made significant progress in cleaning up its waterways. But other problems remain, such as Lake Erie's toxic blue-green algae, a growing dead zone, and mercury-tainted fish. And as Anne Glausser reports, there's another worry…

Lake Erie has a problem with plastics. 

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Superior recently sampled for plastics in Lake Erie, Huron, and Superior.

Erie had by far the most debris.  Another study from last summer found similar results.

Cathi Lehn says the plastics are a threat to the lake’s ecosystem and biodiversity.

Lehn is with the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization and has studied the issue. 

LEHN:  What was surprising was the concentration of plastics that they found especially in Lake Erie, which did exceed what’s been found in the oceans, just in concentration.

Most of the particles are about the size of a grain of rice. 

Wildlife will eat the plastic, thinking it’s food, and then may get sick or die. 

There’s human health concerns as well says Lehn, though more research is needed. 

Chemicals from the plastics may be leaching into the water. she says. 

And fish from the lake may be highly contaminated since the plastic is a magnet for other pollutants, like PCBs.

Lehn says plastic gets into the lake because of people.

LEHN:  Anytime you see trash in the streets--and a lot of it’s plastics, whether it’s plastic bottles or plastic bags--all of that during a thunderstorm, the rain takes it down our storm drains which then takes it into our water.

There are also some unlikely sources contributing to the problem, says Lehn, such as facial scrubs.

Once plastic gets into the lake, it takes hundreds of years to break down and it doesn’t biodegrade. 

While many challenges face Lake Erie--such as algal blooms and historic industrial contamination--Lehn says this is an issue that everyone can individually do something about, by recycling and cutting back on bottled water and plastic bags.

Tags

Community/Human Interest, Environment, Health

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