For anyone familiar with the Grand Calumet River, the changes over the last few years are impossible to miss. The historically industrialized river, long ago abandoned by both people and wildlife, is now home to birds, fish, and other aquatic life in many areas. The revitalization is due to a series of remediation and restoration projects that will remove more than 2 million cubic yards—roughly 130,000 dump trucks—of contaminated sediment and add native plants to banks and marshes by 2015.
The east branch of the river is one of these revitalized areas, and it is there that representatives from government agencies and non-profit organizations, including IISG’s Caitie McCoy, met earlier this month for a tour of the remediation projects.
The tour, coordinated by Save the Dunes, was aimed at highlighting the work and thanking representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., for their support in the efforts and encouraging support for future funding.
“They’ve been our champions to maintain (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) funding for the last four or five years,” Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, said. “We are indebted to them.”
The group visited some of the river’s biggest success stories, including Roxana Marsh, which has been free of high levels of PCBs and heavy metals for over two years. They also heard from officials about local changes that are helping to secure the long-term health of the river. In Hammond, IN, for example, raw sewage that was previously discharged into the newly-remediated river is now being redirected to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour came during the stop at Seidner Marsh. Remediation for this part of the river wrapped up earlier this year and attention has been turned to dredging wetlands and rebuilding habitats. The group was able to see these efforts first-hand as workers delivered barge after barge of fresh sand to be spread along the riverbed.
“It is important that these restoration projects do more than just remove contaminated sediment,” said Caitie. “We also want to help jumpstart wildlife populations, and that includes the invertebrates and microorganisms that live at the bottom of the river. The clean sand gives them a home, a place to burrow in.”
Recent research on Great Lakes contaminants has shown that microplastics – small beads of plastic used in many exfoliants, toothpastes, and other products – are contributing to pollution levels. As a result, mayors near the Great Lakes are calling on manufacturers to remove the plastics from their products.
“The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, representing more than 100 Canadian and U.S. cities, is urging industry and governments to have microplastics removed from personal care products.
Its call came as a study on microplastic pollution was published based on sampling last summer on Lake Huron, Erie and Superior led by Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia.
‘It takes that kind of initiative to get things to change,’ she said of the mayor’s support for the issue.
‘It’s not so much about cleaning it up, as it is about stopping it at its source.’
Mason returned to the lakes for seven weeks this summer to collect more samples, including one from the St. Clair River at Sarnia that will be analyzed as the study continues.
Samples taken in 2012 included green, blue and purple coloured spheres, similar to polypropylene and polyethylene microbeads in consumer products, such as facial cleaners.”
Read the complete article at the link above.
Continuing research on Lake Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes is turning up important information on the presence and concentration of microplastics – particles too small to be filtered by water treatment plants, but which can have negative effects on the environment.
From the StarTribune:
“Fresh off the research boat, Lorena Rios-Mendoza, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, presented her preliminary findings to reporters Thursday.She said Lake Erie seems to hold the highest concentrations of plastics, probably because the particles float downstream from the upper lakes, according to the Duluth News Tribune (http://bit.ly/1cnm6BS ).The plastic has also been found in Lake Superior sediment, meaning it’s not just floating on the surface, Rios-Mendoza said.‘It was very shallow where they were found, but they were in the sediment,’ Rios-Mendoza said.
The researchers dragged fine-mesh nets across the surface of lakes. Some of the plastic can be seen only under a microscope.
So far, Rios-Mendoza’s hypothesis is that the plastic in the Great Lakes starts small, possibly as scrubbing beads in household or beauty products, facial scrubs and even some toothpaste.”
Follow the link above to read the complete article, including information about some of the harmful properties of this pollution, and read about IISG’s Laura Kammin and Anjanette Riley taking part in the research this summer here.
As you read in yesterday’s blog post, IISG’s Laura Kammin and Anjanette Riley are taking part in a research trip on Lake Michigan this weekend investigating the presence and concentration of microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
The Chicago Tribune has more details about the research:
“Calling the lake ‘its own separate little beast,’ Mason said she expects to find high levels of microplastics in Lake Michigan because it borders so many large cities and because water molecules are estimated to swirl around the lake for about 99 years on average before being replaced by water flowing in. Water stays longer only in Lake Superior, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.On Friday the researchers boarded the Niagara at St. Ignace, Mich., and sailed from Lake Huron into Lake Michigan. After a stop in Milwaukee, the ship is scheduled to arrive in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. Along the way, researchers planned to collect almost 30 samples.One scientist who sailed on last summer’s research trip is back in her lab, studying the chemicals that may be piggybacking on the microplastics gathered from Superior, Huron and Erie.The particles ‘work like a sponge’ for pollutants, said Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Superior. One reason is that microplastics have a large surface area in relation to their size, which means there are plenty of places for the chemicals to stick.”
Recent research has shown that pharmaceuticals and personal care products can cause significant problems for waterways, affecting not only water quality but also negatively impacting the processes that plants and animals need to survive and thrive.
One way that those products are causing pollution in the Great Lakes may not just be due to the chemicals they are made from, though.
From Scientific American:
“Rather, small plastic beads, known as micro plastic, are the offenders, according to survey results to be published this summer in Marine Pollution Bulletin. ‘The highest counts were in the micro plastic category, less than a millimeter in diameter,’ explained chemist Sherri ‘Sam’ Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the Great Lakes plastic pollution survey last July. ‘Under the scanning electron microscope, many of the particles we found were perfectly spherical plastic balls.’Cosmetics manufacturers use these micro beads, or micro exfoliates, as abrasives in facial and body scrubs. They are too tiny for water treatment plants to filter, so they wash down the drain and into the Great Lakes. The biggest worry: fish such as yellow perch or turtles and seagulls think of them as dinner. If fish or birds eat the inert beads, the material can deprive them of nutrients from real food or get lodged in their stomachs or intestines, blocking digestive systems.”
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