Saturday, Aug. 20, was hot and sunny — perfect for “eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016.”
This was an international water research project that took place across the Great Lakes Basin, an area that includes the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe, Lake Couchiching, the Trent-Severn Waterway, and parts of Muskoka and Haliburton.
From sailboats, motorboats, kayaks, canoes, or by walking into the water from shore, citizen-scientists in two Canadian provinces and eight U.S. states took part in gathering samples of water. The samples are being sent to a central laboratory in Maine for testing for microplastics and microbeads. A number of beach clean-ups were organized as part of this event.
When plastic bags and other plastic garbage get into the water, they break down into tiny pieces that become invisible to the human eye. These pieces absorb toxins from the water, and then are eaten by fish and other creatures — putting disease-causing toxins into the food chain.
Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic added to such items as toothpaste, facial cleanser and soap, intended to improve the abrasive cleaning effect. In Canada, parliament has declared microbeads are toxic. Some cosmetics manufacturers in Canada have started to remove them from their products, but other companies are waiting until 2018 and even 2019. Before buying toothpaste, facial cleanser or similar product, you should check the list of ingredients. The website for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, however, says the ingredients list might not say “microbeads.” The website says other ingredients that indicate the presence of microbeads in a product are: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, and nylon.PROBLEM
Most water treatment plants cannot remove microplastics or microbeads from our household waste water during treatment. These particles end up in the water where we swim, boat and fish — the same water that can be the source of our drinking water.
eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 — the largest simultaneous water sampling for microplastics that has ever taken place — was part of an international project. A group of scientists and citizen-scientists is sampling for microplastics and microbeads in bodies of water around the world, including the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the waters around Norway, to raise awareness about the plastics crisis and to determine the extent of the pollution. Next year, a sailboat will go all the way around the United Kingdom to sample water as this project continues.
A number of Lake Simcoe area people took part in eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016, including a team from Parklane Landscapes. The results of the water sampling are expected to be available in October, and will be published in an upcoming issue of Lake Simcoe Living, as well as on the Facebook pages for Lake Simcoe Association and Parklane Landscapes.For more information, go to exxpedition.com/greatlakes2016/