Federal Official Visits UWS to Hear About Microplastics Research

Baihly Warfield
November 28, 2017 07:19 PM

Microplastics research being done at UWS has already gained national and international attention. Tuesday, a federal official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration visited to hear more about it. 


Nancy Wallace is the marine debris program director, and she said it was a good opportunity to hear what local partners are doing about the plastics issue. 

"A lot of times we think about marine debris, we think about the oceans. But marine debris affects the Great Lakes too," Wallace said. 

No one knows that better than Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza, an associate professor of Chemistry at UWS. She has been studying this issue since 2003. Her work started in the ocean and moved over to the Great Lakes four years ago. 

"This is a hot topic now, and ... we don't know a lot about it," Mendoza said. 

She was excited to show Wallace around the labs in Barstow Hall and explain some of the research posters on the wall. 

"We collected in the river, but in reality, I don't know what is the fate," Mendoza told Wallace. "I don't know if it's going to the river up or down or go to the lake."

Wallace said at the national level, they are spending time on microplastics too. 

"Microplastics are really concerning because so many fish or marine species ingest them," Wallace said. "Especially for human health, it's something we're thinking about. If we eat those fish that eat those microplastics, what does that mean?"

Wallace said her takeaway from the UWS visit was encouragement in how many students are engaged in the research. Junior Valentin Salas was one who told her about some of the research he's helping with. 

He was combing through the plastic in a sample a group recently collected. 

"We can calculate how much water went through, and then based on like how much plastic is in there, we can say, OK. If we do x number of samples, and we have this average with like 400 pieces of microplastic in like 1,000 liters or whatever, we get a pretty good idea of how much is in the water in that area," Salas explained. 

Wallace said that's so encouraging because she sees it as a field that will grow. 

"To see so many engaged, young people taking this on, I think that shows there's a lot of hope for the issue," she said. "And I hope they continue to work on it."

Mendoza agreed. She hopes the more research that is done, the more solutions can be attained. 

"We need to stop the source. We are the source," Mendoza said. "We need to use the plastic with responsibility. Try to recycle, reuse and refuse."


Baihly Warfield

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