Plastic pollutants circulate in pockets of the Great Lakes at concentrations higher than any other body of water on Earth, according to a State University of New York researcher.
In July, Sherri Mason, a professor at SUNY Fredonia and coordinator of the school's environmental sciences program, led a survey of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes that was done in collaboration with the 5 Gyres Institute.
Mason's research is starting to get attention from environmental blogs and news sites, and the results aren't pretty.
“We had two samples in Lake Erie that we just kept going back and rechecking the data, because the count, the number of plastic particles in the sample, was three times greater than any sample collected anywhere in the entire world,” she told James Dau of Great Lakes Echo, an environmental news site.
According to Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, the plastic found in the Great Lakes is different from what's found in the ocean.
The particles in the Great Lakes appear to be plastic beads, such as those used in some facial cleansers or as abrasives in ship sandblasting. Mason's team found three times as many pieces of plastic in the Great Lakes water samples as researchers find in a typical oceanic gyre sample, Wilson said, but the Great Lakes particles are extremely small — 0.5 millimeter and below, not the typical 5mm fragments found in the ocean.
By weight, the plastic concentration in the Great Lakes is very low as compared to oceanic pollution, Wilson wrote. So what makes the Great Lakes pollution unusual is the number of particles.
Mason's team studied Lakes Superior, Erie and Huron this summer.