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Nearly 22 Million Pounds of Plastic Pollution Enter the Great Lakes Every Year

Dec 20, 2016 07:30 AM EST
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A new study from the Rochester University revealed that almost 22 million pounds, or 10,000 metric tons, of plastic waste from the United States and Canada enter the Great Lakes every year.

The study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, showed that the plastic debris moves between the Great Lakes and across interstate and international borders. Unlike the floating "garbage patches" found in the ocean, plastics in the Great Lakes are carried by persistent winds and lake currents to the shore, washing it up in another state or country.

For the study, the researchers used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Coastal Forecast System. By applying mathematical models to these data, the researchers were able to simulate the distribution and transportation of plastic debris throughout and across the Great Lakes system from 2009 to 2014.

The researchers estimate that nearly 10,000 metric tons of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year. About half of this plastic debris, or 5,000 metric tons, goes to Lake Michigan. On the other hand, Lake Eerie and Lake Ontario receive 2,500 metric tons and 1,400 metric tons of plastic debris, respectively. Lake Huron and Lake Superior follows with 600 metric tons and 32 metric tons per year, respectively.

According to a press release, the researchers commented that the plastic pollution in Lake Michigan is approximately equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles dumped into the lake every year, while Lake Ontario equates to 28 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles.

About 80 percent of the shoreline litters of the Great Lakes are plastic debris. Major population centers remain the primary source of plastic pollution in the Great Lake system. On the other hand, more plastic particles are being released in Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit than being accumulated in their shorelines.

Plastic particles and microbeads could be consumed by fishes and other marine animals, potentially entering food chains.

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