Microplastics are WHERE?

Posted on May 14, 2018
Education and communication are the keys to engaging the public about plastic pollution and promoting positive change in habitual usage

We are living in the anthropogenic age, otherwise known as the ‘plastic age’. This fact came into clearer focus in the public eye recently with the release of reported studies of microplastics, or microfibers, in tap water, food and beer. Recently, a study conducted by researchers at UMD found microfibers in tap water and beers from the Great Lakes.

As an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior whose research has focused on microplastics pollution in the oceans and the Great Lakes, I was encouraged to see this study capture the media’s attention. It increases awareness of macro and micro plastic pollution as a significant environmental issue with unknown consequences for human health.

At the same time, it’s important that people understand this is a widespread issue, not one that is isolated solely to Great Lakes water. Plastic pollution is impacting nearly all aquatic environments and possibly nearly all water supplies.

It is easy to form misperceptions in the quest to raise awareness. A good example of this is the North Pacific Garbage Patch — a term that has been coined to describe the plastics pollution problem in the Pacific Ocean. It has caused people to imagine a floating plastic island twice the size of the state of Texas. While the problem is indeed huge, the plastic is dispersed, not floating around like an island.

At this point, we do not know what the hazard and exposure is of microfibers in water, beer or food that humans are consuming. I am studying microplastic debris pollution with a focus on adsorption of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These POPs can produce cancer and some of them are endocrine disrupters. However, since the plastic exists in even smaller sizes, called nanoplastic, the impact is even more unknown due to the lack of analytical instrumentation to determine the potential ecological and human health consequences. This is a new area of research and already there are more questions than answers.

Plastic pollution is everyone’s problem, not just that of a specific industry.  We are living in a plastic addicted society, using plastics without responsibility. Education and communication are the keys to engaging the public about plastic pollution and promoting positive change in habitual usage. Plastics need to be reduced drastically and used responsibly and the plastic industry needs to take their share of responsibility in managing products and their proper disposal and recycling.

As this issue gains attention, I hope people, businesses and industries will take the opportunity to consider how they can become more responsible in their use of plastics. We need to be careful with the discrepancies between the science and the community in relation to the risk of this issue and overall avoid any psychological risk in the minds of people.

Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza is an associate professor of Chemistry at UW-Superior and an internationally known researcher on microscopic plastic pollution in oceans and lakes. Rios' work has been published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature and reported in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The National Geographic website, Atlantic magazine and others. The work of Rios and other researchers led to laws in Wisconsin and Michigan banning the use of microplastic beads in personal care products.

News Contact: Lorena Rios Mendoza | 715-394-8205 | lriosmen{atuws}
Microplastics are WHERE?
Posted on May 14, 2018
Education and communication are the keys to engaging the public about plastic pollution and promoting positive change in habitual usage
Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza is an associate professor of Chemistry at UW-Superior and an internationally known researcher on microscopic plastic pollution in oceans and lakes.

Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza is an associate professor of Chemistry at UW-Superior and an internationally known researcher on microscopic plastic pollution in oceans and lakes.