Study finds Ottawa River 'significantly' polluted with microplastics
Published Monday, October 17, 2016 4:50PM EDT Last Updated Monday, October 17, 2016 6:52PM EDT
You may want to think about this when you’re brushing your teeth or scrubbing your face tonight.
Tiny little bits of plastic in many of our personal care products are going down the drain with that water.
Now a new study shows just how big a problem those little microbeads are.Researchers from Ottawa Riverkeeper and Carleton University have just completed this first ever study of microplastics in the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.
They're findings aren't encouraging.
Every time Dr. Meaghan Murphy goes for a walk along the Ottawa River, she can't resist the urge to pick up these plastic pollutants littering the shoreline.
“They're everywhere,” says Murphy, a staff scientist with Ottawa Riverkeeper, “That's a serious problem and all the plastic will stay on our shoreline and slowly break down and make its way into our river.”
And that's exactly what researchers have discovered in this first ever study focusing on microplastic pollution in our watershed.
This summer, scientists with Ottawa Riverkeeper teamed up with Carleton University to collect samples all along the 550 kilometre stretch of the Ottawa River and parts of the Rideau. They found microplastics in every single sample along the Ottawa River.
“These are some of the microplastics we got from samples in the Ottawa River,” says Dr. Jesse Vermaire, as he points to tiny fragments of plastic from synthetic clothing and tiny blue or white beads from toothpaste and facial scrubs. Vermaire is an assistant professor with the department of Environmental Science, Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University.
“A few studies have shown that when animals eat this plastic, it affects their behavior and they become less able to survive; it’s making them sick.”
So why should we care about these microplastics. Vermaire explains that the plastics act like a sponge and absorb other contaminants in the water system. They get eaten by fish that in turn get eaten by us.
“That's one of the concerns is that if these microplastics are acting like a sponge and the fish eating them, what does that mean for humans?”
What we do know from this study is that these microbeads are far more prolific downstream from the Ottawa sewage treatment plant. The study found the concentration of them wasa sixteen times higher than upstream, indicating the plant is a significant source of microbead pollution to the river.
“Our river is connected to the St. Lawrence Seaway,” explains Dr. Meaghan Murphy, “which is connected to the ocean, so everything we do here impacts our river but also has an impact on the ocean.”
The good news is that our water filtration plant is able to filter the tiniest of particles so Dr. Jesse Vermaire says it is unlikely that these plastics are in our drinking water, although he says he hasn’t yet tested it. Vermaire says other studies elsewhere, though, have found the microplastics in beer.
Canada has listed micrcobeads as a "toxic" substance under the Canadian Environmental Protect Act. These researchers are hoping they will follow the U.S. lead from December, 2015 which banned the sale and use of microbeads in personal care products, such as toothpaste, soaps and shampoos.