Saturday, January 17, 2015

New study to probe plastic pollution in Lake Winnipeg


A new study will investigate plastic pollution in Lake Winnipeg, which already has a number of environmental issues including a chronic algae problem.                                                                                                                                   

By Austin Grabish, The Selkirk Record 

A new research project that will investigate plastic pollution in Lake Winnipeg is moving forward thanks to a grant from the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

Samples taken from 12 different points on Lake Winnipeg last year will soon be analyzed for microplastic particles that are harmful to freshwater systems.

“The goal of this work (is) to try and just do a survey of the lake to try and understand the extent of any plastic pollution that might be here already, if there’s any at all, so we have a reference point for future work,” said Michael D. Rennie, a University of Manitoba scientist working on the project.

The research project is one of three the Lake Winnipeg Foundation announced it would be funding last week. The project received a $6,000 grant and is expected to research an area that is currently untapped. The hope for the project is to determine how pollution in freshwater environments can alter algal blooms.

“Because no one’s really tried to investigate that yet at all,” Rennie said.

This is in addition to the basic understanding Rennie and other scientists hope to have on the extent of plastic pollution in Lake Winnipeg. “Because we don’t really have a whole lot of information on it right now,” Rennie said.

In recent years microplastics have been rising to more detectable levels in large freshwater systems, which includes all of the great lakes, Rennie said.

Beads from fishing gear, water bottles, and cosmetic products are all polluting lake waters, he said.

Small polyethylene pieces from cosmetic products are of a special concern. “It’s certainly where a lot of the attention has been generated in the past,” Rennie said.

The small plastic particles have already been removed from some products while other cosmetic companies have taken a pledge to stop using them in the near future, Rennie said.

The extent of plastic pollution in Lake Winnipeg isn’t currently known and may not be a huge issue, but the new research project will serve as a foundation for future studies examining plastic pollution, Rennie said.

“And in case it starts to become a problem we can compare back to the survey that we’re conducting currently,” Rennie said.

The University of Manitoba, IISD Experimental Lakes Area Inc, and the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium are all working on the project.

 “It’s really a group project. There’s a lot of people involved in it,” Rennie said.

Two other water projects also received funding from the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.

The first is the Caring for our Watersheds contest run by Oak Hammock Marsh, which has high school students submit proposals on projects that can help watersheds.

The second is a short video called Making the Case for Wetlands. The video is expected to highlight the benefits of wetlands in relation to issues of water quality, flooding and climate change.

Kirsten Earl McCorrister, Lake Winnipeg Foundation’s interim executive director, said the Foundation is proud to be able to support projects that will better the health of Lake Winnipeg.

“Complex challenges require multifaceted solutions,” Earl McCorrister said.

-- First published in the Selkirk Record print edition January 15, 2015 p.19

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