IISG’s Laura Kammin and Anjanette Riley set sail today on a mission to find plastics in Lake Michigan. The trip is a part of a larger effort to determine if the plastics and microplastics that have been found in the world’s oceans are an issue in the Great Lakes too. Sampling kicked off last year with research trips on Lakes Huron, Superior, and Erie, and the findings came as a bit of a surprise – millions of tiny plastic particles floating in the water in even higher concentrations than in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The first round of sampling revealed that the Lakes are home to between 1,500 and 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile, with Lake Erie housing the largest concentrations. Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia, Dr. Lorena Rios-Mendoza of University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Marcus Erikson of 5 Gyres Institute have determined that much of the plastic they found was actually microbeads, found in many brands of toothpaste and facial and body scrubs. These tiny pieces of plastic are less than a millimeter in diameter, much too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment facilities before that water is released into nearby lakes and rivers.

Anjanette and Laura, along with researchers from SUNY at Fredonia and 5 Gyres Institute, are on Lake Michigan this week to see how the plastic load there compares to the other Great lakes. The crew will collect approximately 20 samples between now and August 10 as they zigzag their way across southern Lake Michigan. Dr. Mason will process the samples in the coming months. The research team also plans to extend the project to Lake Ontario and get a second round of samples from Lake Erie later this summer.
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