WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — While walking on beaches or shorelines of the Great Lakes or St. Lawrence River, finding pieces or pellets of blue or white polystyrene, pieces from disposable foam products, is not an uncommon sight.
However, local advocates are calling for action as they say it is making its way through marine ecosystems and harming animals such as fish, birds and even humans.
Save the River and Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper Executive Director John Peach said this problem has been recently noticed by his organization and volunteers for its Trash Free River Cleanups.
“I been talking to different members of the waterkeepers groups along the Great Lakes, and this is not just the Thousand Islands problem, it’s a problem all around the world,” stated Peach. “We’re all reading about it locally and hopefully we can come up with some long-term solution.”
According to Peach, a main source for these pollutants stems from structures very close to the water: floating docks. Back when these structures gained popularity, disposable foam products were a cheap alternative to allow these docks to float in the summer seasons.
Now scientists, advocates and local residents are witnessing the breakdown of these pollutants into small pellets, which Penn State Behrend Sustainability Coordinator Dr. Sherri Mason considers a big risk.
“Plastic pollution is second only to climate change when it comes to the survival of our species,” stated Dr. Mason. “I know that sounds like I am being melodramatic, but I’m not; I’m being realistic. When you consider the lifetimes of plastic, the small sizes that it can break down to, the ability of those to not only invade our bodies and organs, but to carry endocrine disrupting chemicals, chemicals which have wide-ranging and significant impacts, the reality of this type of pollution is stark.”
Solutions to this issue include replacing old docks with optimized models such as new steel frames or PVC. Additionally, Peach proposed ideas for cleaning these pollutants off the shoreline in the fall when the water levels are low.
However, he said also suggested the best way to help mitigate this issue for the future.
If you can get a handful of these little pellets, frankly, to me, that’s more exciting than one great big barrel because every one of those pellets can go into a fish, that can go into a bird, and can go into a human,” Peach expressed.
And as Peach has grown up on the St. Lawrence River, he praised local and national initiatives, such as the Clean Water Act, but expressed that the plastic problem, is what still needs work.
Stating, “for so many years, we thought this plastics problem was an ocean problem. And now we’re seeing it right out there in the great lake, Now we’re seeing it at our own docks and our beaches.”
Save the River is scheduled to host additional Trash Free River Cleanups this summer. A full listing can be found on its website.