Matt Simon: Remote Lakes and Microplastic

Wired:

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THE MICROPLASTIC MENACE is a maddening conundrum: The pollutant shows up everywhere, but science knows very little about it. Microplastic particles blow to the peaks of pristine mountain ranges. They swirl hundreds of feet deep in the sea. They clot ocean critters, from shellfish to regular fish.

Yet we have little data on how microplastic might be affecting the animals exposed to it, and we certainly don’t know how the stuff could be affecting whole ecosystems. A system of small, isolated lakes in Canada, though, could help unravel those mysteries. The International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, are testing grounds that allow researchers to isolate a pocket of water within a lake and add pollutants like hormones and flame retardants—and now potentially microplastics—and watch how the ecosystem responds. The microplastics program is in its very early stages, but it could turn into a one-of-a-kind platform for testing how this omnipresent pollutant might be stressing ecosystems.

Our Clothing Fibers are Getting into Our Lakes

John Flesher, writing for the AP:

Star Tribune

Star Tribune

Scientists who have reported that the Great Lakes are awash in tiny bits of plastic are raising new alarms about a little-noticed form of the debris turning up in sampling nets: synthetic fibers from garments, cleaning cloths and other consumer products.

They are known as “microfibers” — exceedingly fine filaments made of petroleum-based materials such as polyester and nylon that are woven together into fabrics.

”When we launder our clothes, some of the little microfibers will break off and go down the drain to the wastewater treatment facility and end up in our bodies of water,” Sherri “Sam” Mason, a chemist with the State University of New York at Fredonia, said Friday.

The fibers are so minuscule that people typically don’t realize their favorite pullover fleece can shed thousands of them with every washing, as the journal Environmental Science & Technology reported in 2011...

Ominously, the fibers seem to be getting stuck inside fish in ways that other microplastics aren’t. Microbeads and fragments that fish eat typically pass through their bodies and are excreted. But fibers are becoming enmeshed in gastrointestinal tracts of some fish Mason and her students have examined. They also found fibers inside a double-crested cormorant, a fish-eating bird.

”The longer the plastic remains inside an organism, the greater the likelihood that it will impact the organism in some way,” Mason said, noting that many plastics are made with toxic chemicals or absorb them from polluted water. She is preparing a paper on how microplastics are affecting Great Lakes food chains, including fish that people eat.

There’s also a chance that fibers are in drinking water piped from the lakes, she said. Scientists reported last fall that two dozen varieties of German beer contained microplastics.

Looking? Found something you have, eh? Our stuff keeps moving with negative consequences. Happens to everything we create sometimes this does.

Plastic, Plastic, Plastic

Marcus Eriksen et al., research reporting in PLOS ONE:

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment, yet estimates of the global abundance and weight of floating plastics have lacked data, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere and remote regions. Here we report an estimate of the total number of plastic particles and their weight floating in the world’s oceans from 24 expeditions (2007–2013) across all five sub-tropical gyres, costal Australia, Bay of Bengal and the Mediterranean Sea conducting surface net tows (N = 680) and visual survey transects of large plastic debris (N = 891). Using an oceanographic model of floating debris dispersal calibrated by our data, and correcting for wind-driven vertical mixing, we estimate a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons. When comparing between four size classes, two microplastic <4.75 mm and meso- and macroplastic >4.75 mm, a tremendous loss of microplastics is observed from the sea surface compared to expected rates of fragmentation, suggesting there are mechanisms at play that remove <4.75 mm plastic particles from the ocean surface.
George Carlin

George Carlin

We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails. And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of f-ing Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, ‘Why are we here?’

Plastic… asshole.
— George Carlin

Ban Sought on Microbeads in Beauty Items

John Schwartz, writing for the New York Times:

Lawmakers in Albany could make New York the first state to outlaw the tiny plastic beads used in personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpastes.

Legislation that is scheduled to be introduced on Tuesday by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney of Suffolk County on behalf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman would prohibit the sale of cosmetic and beauty products that contain the beads, which are added to aid exfoliation and abrasion.

The beads appear in the tens of millions in the Great Lakes, according to scientists’ estimates, with high concentrations along the New York shores of Lake Erie. They become coated with toxins like PCBs and can be eaten by fish and other marine life. Scientists suggest that those toxins could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.

People concerned for our environment must constantly fight to remove harmful or toxic products because manufactures to not have to first prove that there will be no harm.

Beat the Microbead

From the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics: 

A quick phase out of microbeads is crucial. Tiny particles of plastic have been added to possibly thousands of personal care products sold around the world. These microbeads, hardly visible to the naked eye, flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.

Positive action on behalf of manufacturers has meant that more and more of these microbeads are being removed from personal care products and replaced by naturally biodegradable alternatives. It is still a far cry to say that all personal care products are free from plastic microbeads though.

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Plastic beads are the latest pollution threat to Great Lakes

Lisa Maria Garza, reporting for Reuters:

 

Tiny plastic beads from beauty products are showing up in North America’s Great Lakes, and an environmental group is calling upon companies to stop using the plastic particles.

Scientists have already been found the particles, known as microplastic, floating in the oceans but recently reported the same contamination in the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth. The particles are often less than a millimeter (0.04 inch).

What we put in our products enters the environment and then circles back to pollute our bodies. 

Microplastic Pollution Prevalent in Lakes, Too

From Science Daily: 

Researchers have detected microplastic pollution in one of Western Europe’s largest lakes, Lake Geneva, in large enough quantities to raise concern. While studies in the ocean have shown that these small bits of plastic can be harmful to fish and birds that feed on plankton or other small waterborne organisms, the full extent of their consequences in lakes and rivers is only now being investigated.

New Concerns About Plastic Pollution in Great Lakes ‘Garbage Patch’

Lisa Borre, reporting for National Geographic, Water Currents:

Although scientists have studied plastic pollution in the oceans since NOAA researchers discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 1988, a team of scientists is conducting the first-of-its-kind research on the open water of the Great Lakes. One of the team members presented preliminary results of a study on the topic at meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Was George Carlin's facetious remark that humans exist to create plastic correct?