Livengood: Great Lakes plastic pollution starts in every countryside ditch, city edge
Miller’s project caught my attention after Crain’s Detroit Business and Crain’s Chicago Business released a joint report on the emerging problem of microplastics polluting the Great Lakes.
This report by veteran environmental journalist Eric Freedman has revealed alarming scientific research showing how microscopic plastic fibers enter the bodies of Great Lakes fish and wildlife – and the drinking water supplies of cities along each other’s shores. some lakes. The source of this pollution is estimated at 22 million pounds of plastic waste that ends up in the Great Lakes each year.
The handful of scientists who study plastic pollution in the Great Lakes have a model of the lake current that shows how garbage drains from Milwaukee and Chicago and up the Lake Michigan beaches of St. Joseph, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and beyond.
On Lake Erie, modeling shows how garbage flows directly from the Detroit River and picks up more garbage from Toledo’s Maumee River. This floating garbage literally bounces along the Ohio shores of Lake Erie as it heads towards the Niagara River which connects with Lake Ontario.
Microplastics come from all the plastic items we all use: single-use cups, food containers, beverage bottles, grocery bags, all different forms of packaging.
When a bag of groceries goes down a storm sewer at 11 Mile and Little Mack in St. Clair Shores, it can be torn into hundreds of small pieces as it makes its way to that outlet at 11 1/2 Mile.
From there, these little pieces float in Lake St. Clair.
Fish and birds mistake tiny plastic particles for food. Microorganisms cling to these plastic particles in the water, causing them to sink and enter the sediment, scientists say.
The damage to lake health from microplastics is still unknown, in large part because there is not much research focused specifically on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. This is an area where policy makers could take action based on the Crain Forum report.
While the focus is on garbage collection on beaches along Lakes Michigan and Huron, there isn’t much emphasis on storm sewers that send water off our streets – and trash into. these streets – directly into the lakes and many rivers of the Great Lakes basin.
The volume of garbage in our urban streets and in our rural ditches is ultimately leading to somewhere.
And too often, it’s our rivers and lakes somewhere.
As Freedman has noted, the challenge of reducing microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes “will be costly, time consuming, scientifically difficult, and at times politically controversial.”
Miller’s efforts to keep plastic bottles and debris out of Lake St. Clair are just a small step towards stopping the flow of waste into the source of drinking water for 40 million people in the United States and in Canada.
If Miller’s pilot project is successful in keeping trash out of the lake, Michigan’s elected leaders should find the money and staff to install trash nets on the 12 landfill drains along Lake St. Clair, then move downstream to Wayne and Monroe counties.
In Miller’s words, we should all be trying to do better to preserve these Great Lakes.