Earth Month: Researching microplastics in Lake Superior

Earth Month: Researching microplastics in Lake Superior

Researching what types of microplastics are present in our aquatic systems.

Lake Superior is an incredible resource, and to the naked eye its cold water appears fresh and clean.

But Liz Minor, a UMD professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry and at the Large Lakes Observatory, is researching how many microplastics are floating through Lake Superior’s waters.

“It’s really hard to do risk assessment to actually do studies with fish and humans and others and understanding dose response if you don’t know what the dose in the environment is likely to be,” Minor said.

She says researchers find plastics in Minnesota water, sediment, and fish but at fairly low levels compared to many inland water studies. Microplastics tend to come from things like laundry lint; the breakdown of shopping bags, bottles, and construction materials; and even paint that washes off the road.

However, there isn’t yet a clear picture about the ecosystem or health effects of microplastics.

Minor’s suggestion is to minimize single use plastic and wear older clothing if possible because it is less likely to shed plastic fibers.

Her microplastics research is funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, Minnesota Sea Grant, and the state legislature via an interagency collaborative study on the presence and extent of microplastics in state waters.