Microplastic contamination in Lake Winnipeg, Canada

Microplastics are an emerging contaminant of concern in aquatic ecosystems. To better understand microplastic contamination in North American surface waters, we report for the first time densities of microplastics in Lake Winnipeg, the 11th largest freshwater body in the world. Samples taken 2014 to 2016 revealed similar or significantly greater microplastic densities in Lake Winnipeg compared with those reported in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Plastics in the lake were largely of secondary origin, overwhelmingly identified as fibres. We detected significantly greater densities of microplastics in the north basin compared to the south basin of the lake in 2014, but not in 2015 or 2016. Mean lake-wide densities across all years were comparable and not statistically different. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy indicated that 23% of isolated particles on average were not plastic. While the ecological impact of microplastics on aquatic ecosystems is still largely unknown, our study contributes to the growing evidence that microplastic contamination is widespread even around sparsely-populated freshwater ecosystems, and provides a baseline for future study and risk assessments.

Philip J. Anderson, Sarah Warrack, Victoria Langen and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 225, June 2017, Pages 223–231

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