Tag Archives: Great Lakes

Have we made the Great Lakes into a Plastic Soup?


This post was also published in 2012 and is the third most read environmental post on ThumbWind. To me this is development is disheartening but so evident with plastic debris commonly washing up on our beach. This is the fourth article in the Our Water, Our Life Series. 

The next time you brush your teeth or wash your face you may be contributing to adding plastic into the Great Lakes. The New York Times is reporting that micro-plastics are now identified as a serious threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem. As of now there is no way to stop the plastic contamination from products with micro-plastics from entering the watershed.

 The Great Lakes are now a Plastic Soup

microplastics great lakesIn a recent study was conducted by the 5 Gyres Institute headed by Dr. Sherri Mason SUNY College at Fredonia New York. Water samples in July 2012 were taken in the Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario and showed an average abundance was approximately 43,000 microplastic particles/km2. One sample taken downstream from two major cities in Lake Erie, contained over 466,000 particles/km2, greater than all other sample areas combined. Samples taken in Lake Huron just north of Port Austin, Michigan showed a microplastic contamination range between 10,000 and 20,000 microplastic particles/km2. This was the first study to analyze the impact of plastic contamination of the Great Lakes. The surprise is that concentrations of plastic contamination exceed data collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

 Detrimental Effect on Humans Unknown but Likely

Scientists are still working through the links of the chain leading back to humans; about 65 million pounds of fish are caught in the Great microplastic in fishLakes each year. Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, said that the bits of plastic have a great capacity to attract persistent pollutants to their surface. “Plastics are not just acting as mimic food, but they can also cause physical damage to the organism,” she said. She has examined fish guts and found plastic fibers — possibly from the breakdown of synthetic fabrics through clothes washing — that are laden with the chemicals, and said she expected to find beads as well. The entire food chain in the Great Lakes region appear to be affected.

The plastic pollution problem may be even worse in the Great Lakes than in the oceans, Rios said. Her team found that the number of microparticles — which are more harmful to marine life because of their small size — was 24 percent higher in the Great Lakes than in samples they collected in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

 Waste Treatment Plants Fall Short

microplastic4While many of the beads appear to enter the environment when storms cause many wastewater treatment plants to release raw sewage, it is increasingly clear that the beads slip through the processing plants as well, Dr. Mason said at a sewage treatment plant in North East, a town near Erie.

Studies are currently underway to assess the effectiveness of waste treatment plans in the Great Lakes region. Dr. Mason and several students are looking at the presence of these plastics and synthetic materials passing through waste water treatment plants. This would cover water that was flushed down toilets and passed through household drains. Currently Mason’s study is focused on treatment plants in upstate New York.

 Products to Avoid

Facial and body scrubs are the largest contributor to microplastic contamination. In a Hair_wash_with_shampoostudy conducted by 5 Gyres, a single tube of Neutrogena “Deep Clean” contained over 350,000 plastic particles. Microplastic particles and microbeads can be found in facial scrubs, shampoos & soaps, toothpaste, eyeliners, lip gloss, deodorant and sunblock sticks. These microparticles are made of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. PE and PP are the most common.

Some companies have promised a voluntary phase-out of plastic beads. Others have made no commitments.

Promises to phase-out:

  • Beiersdorf (no set date)
  • Colgate-Palmolive (by end of 2014)
  • Johnson & Johnson (by end of 2015)
  • L’Oreal (no set date)
  • Proctor & Gamble (by end of 2017)
  • Unilever (by end of 2015) (D)

 Citations

New York Times Scientists Turn Their Gaze Toward Tiny Threats to Great Lakes, December 14, 2013. By John Schwartz

Polluting plastic particles invade the Great Lakes, Reported by American Chemical Society, April 8, 2013, By Lorena M. Rios Mendoza, Ph.D

Microplastics in consumer products and in the marine environment, Position Paper – 2013, 5 Gyres Institute, Plastic Soup Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Plastic Free Seas, Clean Seas Coalition

Graphics

  • Wikipedia Commons, NOAA, Thumbwind
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It’s Time to Consider a Bounty On Asian Carp


Michigan is one of the few states with open and active bounty statutes. These laws date back to the 1800’s and were meant to address the same problem we have today; invasive species. The Norway rat, English sparrow and Starlings were such a problem that Michigan placed a small bounty, $.02 – $.50 cents for each carcass. There is a story of kids in Pigeon Michigan shooting sparrows near the grain elevator to prevent spoilage on the grain. They brought the birds into the local post office “by the bushel”, for payment.

Southern Illinois University has issued a report advocating the use of overharvesting the bighead and silver carp as an immediate, revenue-positive complement to other control efforts.  Populations of these fishes are growing dense in the lower and middle Illinois River and both species are approaching the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and the defensive electrical barrier set up there to stop it. The team believes the downriver source populations of the fish will continue to send individuals upstream to challenge the CAWS and ultimately the Great Lakes until their numbers are reduced.

From Detroit Free Press

ThumbWind.com advocates placing a $10-20 bounty on each and every Asian Carp caught in Illinois. Rather than spending endless millions on technical silver bullets try good old fashioned overharvesting. Local fisherman and communities would benefit from both the income and as a potential food source. In China, where the big head variety is used to make soup, the fish has been hunted to near eradication. The invasive snakehead is wiping out local bass population in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Inland Fisheries (DNR) has offered a $200 gift card to Bass Pro Shops if fishermen manage to hook and kill a snakehead. Florida is in the process of training and offering incentives to hunters and trappers to hunt and kill invasive pythons, which have become a deadly problem.

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Great Lakes Cruising of Yesterday


I’ll admit that I’ve taken a liking to cruising. It must be the influence of having a sailboat that we have taken from port to port on Lake Huron. Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently there are three curse lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations. One ship, the Pearl Mist is small enough to tackle the famous cruising grounds of Georgian Bay and the beautiful North Channel.


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In the days before the highway and autos the only way to travel the vast distances for the Great Lakes was by sail and steamer. In the mid 1800’s until well into the 1950’s one could travel most of the lakes in style and comfort. One of the most famous and beloved ships was the SS South American. The SS South American was a Great Lakes overnight passage steamboat built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works at Ecorse, Michigan. It was built in 1913 for the Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Company. The vessel was launched on February 21, 1914 and was the newer of two sister ships, the older one being the SS North American.


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Along with its sister ship, SS North American carried passengers between Chicago, Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Duluth, Georgian Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo. These were they heydays of the industry. A business man could board a ship in Chicago for an overnight trip to northern Michigan. Spend the weekend with the family in the cool northern cabin in the woods and take the ship back to the city on Sunday night for work on Monday. It was noted that Hemingway’s father did just that early in the 1900’s.


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Only the South American visited Lake Superior, and made a short weekly stop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula town of Houghton/Hancock. She carried over 450 passengers. The rare picture below hangs in the Rock Harbor lodge on Isle Royal. It shows tourists being dropped off at the American Dock which still stands today. 


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The South American was well known for its High School trips in the 1950’s. Southeast Michigan high school seniors would take a small cruise from Detroit to Chicago. The last season for the South American was in 1967. Her final route was to offer trips to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.


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Sadly, both ships are now part of history. The SS North American sunk on the Atlantic coast while being towed and the SS South American rotted away and was finally scraped in 1992. However, with the rapid popularity of cruising now taking place I expect to see more of these small cruising ships ply their way among the Great Lakes.


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In 2012 Saginaw Bay Muck Was Poop


This post was originally published in 2012. It’s one of the most viewed and searched for on ThumbWind.  With the recent budget cuts announced for the EPA by the current administration it’s feared that the Great Lakes and Saginaw Bay will once again experience muck and fecal encrusted beaches.

We were trying to think of a tactful headline for this piece but decided cut to the chase. Huron County lake front owners have known for years that the declining water quality in Saginaw Bay is due to two factors. 1) Outdated and failing septic tanks and overflow from Bay City. 2) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations CAFOs. Now we have actual experts that confirmed local suspicions of what exactly is in the muck that has been appearing on beaches.

At the 2012 Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference held at Saginaw Valley State University, Marc Werhougstraete, a Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife research assistant, said muck means sewage and fecal matter are likely present.

The blue green muck is composed of different types of algae, macrophytes and decomposing organic matter that varies from season to season. In research Werhougstraete conducted at the Bay City State Recreation Area, he found both human and bovine feces (poop) in the muck.

Basically if you see the muck on the beach, think “poop”. Don’t go into the water and don’t let your kids play in the wet sand. “To reduce risk of contracting illness”, said Werhougstraete,  “avoid contact with muck, wash hands when in contact with it and do not submerge your head in the water.”

Common muck management, such as raking, also can release the pathogens from the muck. People cleaning beaches should do so in the morning, when the beaches are less busy and the sun can kill bacteria, Werhougstraete said.

The algae and muck have gotten so bad in recent years it now compares with the situation Lake Erie faced in the 1960s. NASA released pictures shot from the space station that showed the full algae bloom in 2011.

Featured image from  NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research


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