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Microplastics widespread in Great Lakes tributaries

Sep 15, 2016

Credit A Healthier Michigan / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Tiny particles of plastic are prevalent in rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, according to a new study by scientists with  the U.S. Geological Survey  and the State University of New York at Fredonia.

The study found  microplastics in every sample taken from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in six states. These tributaries account for more than 20% of the total river water running into the Great Lakes.

"The particle type that we saw the most of was the synthetic fibers that wash off of fleece and other textiles," says Austin Baldwin, lead author of the study.

Plastic fibers which are found in clothes and diapers represented 71% of the total particles.

Microbeads, found in personal care products, were the least common microplastic found in the river water, said Baldwin.

Starting in July 2017, the manufacture of microbeads will be banned by the federal Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015.

Baldwin says microplastics are harmful to animal health, and possibly to human health as well. But he says more studies are needed to understand what plastics, what size, and what shapes pose the greatest risks.