The biggest source of the world’s fresh water – the Great Lakes of America, might not be so clean anymore. They are polluted by plastic. This plastic has little to do with empty plastic bottles or cans drifting along the shores. It is much worse. Plastic particles spoiling fresh water are microscopic, making it easy to be swallowed by fish and people drinking water from the Great Lakes.
Even if you are the one who cares about world pollution you still might be doing it. Not by throwing empty cans into the water from a bridge, of course, though lots of people still do it if you look at all the plastic trash floating around the river banks; not even by packing your stuff into the plastic bags in supermarkets; the whole thing is much more complicated.
According to the research expedition conducted by a team from the University of Wisconsin – Superior, scrubbing elements of our daily used hygienic products or household chemicals might pollute fresh waters of the Great Lakes.
For a few days, scientists sailed along the shores of the Greats with fine mesh nets dragging behind them. They were surprised by what they found – thousands of tiny bead size plastic particles contaminating the water. Some of them are so small they can be seen only by microscopes. That does not make them harmless. To the contrary, their tiny size makes them extremely dangerous for fish that mistakenly swallow them instead of food. And what are you going to do if you swallow some pieces of plastic? Choke on it? It’s likely that you will, and fish do the same. Even if it doesn’t killed them, they are contaminated with chemical toxins that often accumulate on microscopic plastic chips.
Researchers say, plastic works as a chemical sponge attracting toxins dissolved in water. Through a microscope even the smallest particle looks like a huge megalopolis constructed of thousands plastic microchips and toxins like PCBs, DDTs and dioxins. Even if this chemical sponge is not swallowed by fish, it floats across the lakes distributing toxins throughout the water.
Lake Erie seems to be the most polluted by plastic particles among the great five. Scientists suggest it might be because Lake Erie sits downstream from other lakes infusing “plastic sponges” from the upper streams. But plastic particles are not only floating in the water. They might go deep turning bottom sediments into a toxic carpet. Probes taken from Lake Superior sediment have confirmed it.
So where are all these plastic particles coming from if it is not just from our plastic bottles floating along the shores?
According to scientists, they may come from almost anything containing plastic, even from our household chemicals and hygiene products flashed with water; even from exfoliating particles of facial scrubs or cleaning lotions! These particles may be so small that they cannot be stopped by water filters on water treatment plants; thus, they leak into the water streams replenishing the Great Lakes reservoir. Consequently, they can come back into our homes affecting the health of 26 million people relying on Great Lakes drinking water.
Research started by the University of Wisconsin – Superior is just a start for further investigations on fresh water plastic pollutants, their sources and ways of dealing with the problem.
Until there is more research, it looks like it’s our turn to think seriously about plastic pollutants. Perhaps the next time you purchase exfoliating cream, think about all the little scrubbing particles floating their way to the biggest source of fresh surface water on the planet – the Great Lakes.
Written by Alsu Salakhutdinov