Microplastic Pollution: A Survey of Wastewater Effluent in the Lake Champlain Basin
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Subjectmicroplastics; wastewater treatment plants; effluent; pollution; Lake Champlain; fibers; fragments; foams; biomagnify in organisms; bioaccumulate toxins
Microplastic is defined as particulatefragments, fibers, films, foams, pellets, and beads. Microplastic pollution was first documented in the 1970s and interest has grown from initial characterization, to effects within marine and freshwater food chains, ultimately impacting human health. Due to their small size, porosity, and density variation, microplastics often escape wastewater treatment processing (WWTP). Commencing in 2015, we surveyed WWTP post-treatment effluent (N = 59) from the city of Plattsburgh, NY and beginning in fall 2016 from St Albans, VT (N = 29), Ticonderoga, NY (N = 23), and Burlington, VT (N = 9). Effluent samples were collected and digested using wet peroxide oxidation methods, followed by microscopic characterization based on type and size. Plant specifications yielded varied microplastic trends in quantity and type, specifically Plattsburgh largely emitted fibers and fragments, St. Albans emitted a majority of foam, Ticonderoga emitted mostly fibers, and Burlington emitted a majority of fragments. Estimated microplastics released per day ranged from St. Albans (30,268), Plattsburgh (14,105), Burlington (16,843), to Ticonderoga (7,841). Microplastics are an emerging concern for aquatic life as they can biomagnify and adsorb harmful chemicals which bioaccumulate up the food chain. They have been found to impair feeding and reduce survival in many aquatic species. This research further documents wastewater treatment plants as a significant source of microplastics entering Lake Champlain and serves as a basis for further microplastic studies in the Lake Champlain watershed. As plants are not designed to capture these small particulate, consumer behavior must evolve to reduce this pollution threat.
Student poster, Center for Earth and Environmental Science, SUNY Plattsburgh