Pollution in the Great Lakes

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Pollution in the Great Lakes

Nearly 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year from the United States and Canada, according to a recent study by Rochester Institute of Technology.

Matthew Hoffman, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences, conducted the study using computer simulations to monitor plastic debris traveling through lakes in the northern U.S. and Canada.

“This study is the first picture of the true scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman reports that half of the Great Lake pollution, approximately 11 million pounds, goes into Lake Michigan- the equivalent of 100 Olympic-sized pools filled with plastic bottles. Lake Erie comes in second with 5.5 million pounds of pollution, followed by Lake Ontario with 1.3 million pounds.

Plastic makes up roughly 80 percent of shoreline trash around the Great Lakes. The main source of this pollution comes from major population centers, including Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit.

Debris travels differently in the Great Lakes than in the oceans. Plastic in the lakes is moved to the shore due to winds and lake currents, while ocean pollution floats in patches. Garbage in the Great Lakes often washes ashore in new states or countries.

The study could potentially help with future cleanup and pollution prevention efforts by tracking high concentrations of plastic in the Great Lakes.

Chamberlain Smith is a science intern and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.