Lake Erie's Garbage Patch May Be Worst of All

Scientists find concentrations of plastic denser than those in ocean

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 13, 2013 9:19 AM CDT

(Newser) – Huge swaths of plastic floating in the ocean get all the attention as emblems of nasty pollution, but rival patches closer to home in Lake Erie are in some ways worse, reports the Atlantic Cities blog. A new study finds that the lake has dense patches of tiny bits of plastic—which just happen to be great sponges for hazardous chemicals. They also look very tasty to birds and fish. The lead University of Wisconsin scientist found concentrations up to 1.7 million particles per square mile, 24% greater than what they turned up in the Atlantic Ocean, writes John Metcalfe. (All the Great Lakes are affected, but Erie is the worst.)

What's more, the lake's plastic has higher concentrations of toxins known as "persistent organic pollutants" than the oceanic plastic, writes Hannah Franklin at Cleveland's Scene magazine. The waste comes from standard plastic litter that breaks down into pieces smaller than a grain of sand (sometimes called "mermaid tears") and from industrial manufacturing (these pellets are called "nurdles" for some reason). Depressing stuff, but Sarah Laskow at Grist manages to find a silver lining, or at least a sliver of one: "Great Lakes pollution is a little bit easier for people to see and maybe decide to clean up, since they don’t want to emerge from a refreshing swim covered in microparticles of trash."

A tug boat guides a ship on Lake Erie.   (Shutterstock)
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