Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes, but it is facing an ongoing issue of plastic contamination that could have devastating effects.
Plastic pollution is ranked by the United Nations as the second-most dangerous threat to the global environment behind only our changing climate. With 300 million tons of plastics being produced each year, it has been found that nearly half are for single-use purposes that get quickly discarded and can sit in our lakes, oceans, and landfills for hundreds of years.
As for Lake Erie, it was revealed to have “the second-highest amount of plastic particles out of all the Great Lakes, and one of the highest concentrations of microplastics in the world,” according to the Lake Erie Foundation. Microplastics are tiny particles that are nearly impossible to filter out of water and can be ingested unknowingly by both animals and humans.
Simple pleasures such as drinking water, having beverages made with water, eating fish, or consuming food processed with water can expose you to microplastics. National Geographic estimated that humans are ingesting up to 52,000 microplastics per year.
Why is this concerning?
In addition to ingesting plastic, people are also exposed to the toxic chemicals that make up and attach to microplastics that aren’t made for human consumption. Those include BPAs, styrene, bleach, perfume, flame retardants, and other harmful chemicals.
Ingesting such chemicals can lead to significant health issues, including an increased risk of developing cancer, a weakened immune system, and hormone imbalances that decrease sperm levels in men and have adverse effects on the ability to reproduce. Babies exposed to the harmful chemicals in microplastics in the womb face an increased risk of developmental delays.
“Ultimately, microplastics are simultaneously increasing our chances of death while decreasing our ability to reproduce,” the Lake Erie Foundation stated.
Lake Erie isn’t the only body of water facing the problem of plastic pollution. A similar issue was discovered at Lake Tahoe, which was reported to contain an average of 133 pieces of plastic per mile.
What can be done about it?
Reducing the reliance on single-use plastics is a necessary step to protect our drinking water. Some of the changes you can make include using reusable grocery bags instead of plastic bags, using refillable water bottles instead of plastic bottles, reusing takeout containers, and avoiding non-recyclable straws.
Policy-makers can implement regulations on single-use plastics. For example, the South Lake Tahoe city council already approved a ban on them. Scientists in Korea have also developed a filtration system that is believed to be effective at removing microplastics from drinking water.
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