Microplastics present in Allegheny County waterways. What you might want to know

Microplastic was found in major waterways in Pennsylvania to a study published March 3rd by PennEnvironment. The researchers found microplastics, which are fragments of plastic less than 5 millimeters long, in all 300 water samples taken from 53 waterways in the state, including seven in Allegheny County.

The study found microfibers from clothing and textiles in all of the waterways examined. A microfilm made of flexible plastics such as bags or packaging was found in 94% of the samples, and microfilms made from harder plastic products were present in 87% of the waterways. One body of water had microspheres made from cosmetic products.

In Allegheny County, fiber, fragment, and film microplastics were present on five of the waterways – the Allegheny River, Nine Mile Run, Ohio River, Sewickley Creek, and Turtle Creek. Fiber and film microplastics were present on the other two waterways, Chartiers Creek and Monongahela River.

Not only do microplastics contain chemicals that are harmful to our and wildlife health, but they can also concentrate toxins that are already in the environment.

ON study The World Wildlife Fund found in 2019 that, on average, people unknowingly consume about 5 grams of microplastic per week, roughly the equivalent weight of a credit card and about 21 grams of microplastic per month, enough to fill half a bowl of rice.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA] for now draws Drinking water from the Allegheny River and said they haven’t found any evidence of it suggests that microplastics are a problem for the current state of the water distribution system.

However, environmentalists say the results are clearly a cause for concern.

“The results of this study should set off an alarm for all Pennsylvanians who love our state’s rivers and streams,” said Faran Savitz, a conservation officer at PennEnvironment, safe from this increasingly common pollution. ”

To help you understand microplastic risk and mitigation measures, PublicSource has compiled key facts and background information and has liaised with lawyers, researchers, and the Pittsburgh Clean Water Authority to discuss their prospects to experience.

Important facts

Plastic is not biodegradable and instead breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics. Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic that are less than five millimeters in size and about the size of a sesame seed.

The PennEnvironment study specifically looked at four types of microplastics: fibers, films, fragments, and microspheres. These microplastics can come from garbage, landfills or incinerators. Microplastics are also found in a wide variety of products, such as pearls in certain cosmetic products or in small pieces of plastic that are used to make new plastic products. Microfiber is repelled by synthetic fiber clothing when it is worn or washed.

Dr. David Velinsky, vice president of the Academy of Sciences at Drexel University and technical advisor to the report, said the plastic allows for contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes [DDTs]to hold onto and build on them. These plastics are then eaten by the surrounding wild animals and end up in the food chain.

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“Microplastics can potentially accumulate small amounts of pollutants that are present in the environment,” Velinsky said. “These pollutants accumulate or build up and release them to wildlife that eat or ingest these microplastics.”

There are currently no federal mandates for drinking water that are specifically intended to be tested for microplastics.

“There is still a lot of plastic in our environment that is misplaced, on our roads, in our streams, on our river banks and in our trees, for God’s sake. And we have to take care of it. ”

PWSA said in a statement emailed that they did not test the water for microplastics and found no evidence to confirm it suggests that microplastics are a problem for the current state of the water distribution system.

“We don’t specifically target microplastics in our treatment process,” he said Rebecca Zito, senior public affairs manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. “However, we monitor the turbidity levels which we believe would help detect microplastics. “

Monitoring of the turbidity values ​​that relate to the quantity of suspended matter in the watercan help reduce the amount of microplastics in the water throughout the water treatment process. The WWF said Water treatment processes can remove particles that are smaller than a micrometer, and advanced treatment can remove even smaller particles, helping to remove microplastics.

However during Sewage treatment plants are able to filter a high percentage of microplastics out of the water. According to PennEnvironment’s Savitz, research has shown that there is still no way to filter them all out.

There are some emerging technologies, but right now there is nothing that would be effective in removing microplastics from our environment. There really is no solution, ”said Savitz. “The best thing is to cut off plastics at the source.”

Key background

Previous research has found microplastics around the world, including in hard-to-reach places like Mount Everest, the deepest part of the ocean, and even the air we breathe.

While research is still ongoing into how these are consumed, the WWF report concluded that microplastics are primarily ingested through drinking water and animals such as shellfish.

Myrna Newman, the executive director of Allegheny Cleanways, an environmental group focused on cleaning waterways and land, said her cleanup operations remove an average of three to four tons of plastic and trash from Allegheny County’s waterways each year. She estimates it would take decades to remove all of the plastic in the environment.

In 2020, Allegheny Cleanways reported that they collected over 4,800 pounds of plastic and trash during one of their river cleanups on the Monongahela River.

“The reality is that there is a lot [of plastic] right now in the environment, ”said Newman. “There is still a lot of plastic in our environment that is misplaced, on our roads, in our streams, on our river banks and in our trees, for God’s sake. And we have to take care of it. “

The Pennsylvania General Assembly and local governments are currently unable to enact or enforce any laws, rules, regulations, or taxes on single-use plastic or packaging due to the use of a bus or coach invoice The law will remain in effect for six months after the Pennsylvania state of emergency is lifted or July 1, 2021, whichever occurs last.

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“I think that’s the big problem for us [Allegheny Cleanways] is that we have wanted some policies and procedures for years and have been working with other organizations, working in collaborations and so on to make change. And this study provides some really good, concrete evidence that what we’ve been saying all along is true. We do not yet know that there is a problem with and possibly because research has not yet examined the effects on human health, but possibly a public health problem with plastics in our environment. ” – Myrna Newman, General Manager of Allegheny Cleanways.

“Impurities like DDT, PCB and many others are considered hydrophobic, which means that they don’t like being in the water. And because you have these plastics in the water, just like other organics, the contaminants, these PCBs and DDTs stick to it. And because these plastics are unfortunately based on petroleum, once attached they can move the food chain upwards, be consumed by fish, other aquatic organisms, even some birds, and move the food chain upwards. ” – Dr. David Velinsky, Vice President of the Academy of Sciences at Drexel University.

“We are lucky enough to get our water from the Allegheny River. Since it flows from the north, where there is less industry and population, it offers higher quality spring water. In addition, our ability to test turbidity is continuously improving with more precise instruments and analyzes in our laboratory. We have not yet found any evidence that microplastics are important to the current state of our water distribution system. ”
– Rebecca Zito, senior public affairs manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

“We need to fundamentally change the way society produces and markets the products consumers buy. We need to change the way we deal with waste in order to tackle this form of pollution. And we need to Creator of this environment. ” Hazard is starting to take responsibility for the products they bring to market. ”
– Faran Savitz, nature conservation officer at PennEnvironment.

“We have known for some time the damage that single-use plastics cause to our environment, and this report is an amazing reminder that plastics – microplastics in particular – are also harmful to our health. Curbing our single-use plastic intake is one of them, and I fully support Philadelphia’s legal rights Challenging Pennsylvania’s communal primacy to regulate it. ” – Erika Strassburger, Pittsburgh City Councilor.

What’s next?

Philadelphia, West Chester, Narberth and Lower Merion announced on March 3 that they are suing the state for exemption from plastic ordinances stating they were unconstitutionally placed in the state budget.

Some Pennsylvania Democrats are also pushing for the Zero waste for PA Legislation as a starting point for reducing plastic waste in the environment. This legislative package contains measures to ban and limit the use of single-use plastics and to oblige plastic packaging manufacturers to participate in a recycling program.

The Get rid of the plastic pollution law was presented at Congress last year. The proposed law imposes strict bans on single-use plastic bags, as well as polystyrene, and includes manufacturer responsibility requirements that would shift responsibility for waste management to plastic manufacturers.

further reading

As the Pittsburgh area increases plastic production, a leading scientist asks: How much of it will end up in our water sources?

A plate of plastic: visualize the amount of microplastic we eat

Many plastics from the Pittsburgh area end up in landfills or in the environment. Is recycling a solution or just a patch?

Good River: Stories from Ohio

Danielle Cruz is an editorial intern at PublicSource. She can be reached at danielle@publicsource.org

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