Microplastics are small plastic particles that are generally derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris. In addition, microplastics include tiny plastic beads used for sandblasting and as micro scrubbers in body wash and beauty products. Microplastic debris has the ability to negatively impact fish populations through increased mortality, decreased fecundity, and adverse behavioral changes. The exact impacts of microplastics on biota are still unknown, but evidence suggests that pseudosatiation, blockage of the intestine, endocrine disruption through leached plasticizers, and contamination by adhered persistent organic pollutants as well as heavy metals may negatively impact aquatic organisms. (Barnes et al. 2009; Talsness et al. 2009; Teuten et al. 2009; Lithner et al. 2011; Wright et al. 2013).
Inspired by a study done by the MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, SSRWSI put in for funding to investigate for microplastic presence in the South Saskatchewan River. Researchers from MacEwan discovered that plastics are present in the North Saskatchewan River in the Edmonton area. After the successful completion of this study, the researchers decided to expand this project into wetlands, stormwater ponds, and natural park ponds. In addition, Dr. Brit Hall from the University of Regina helped us with her expertise and knowledge gained through her research on the occurrence of microplastics in Wascana Creek.
To date, there have been no studies in the South Saskatchewan River watershed to determine the presence or absence of microplastics. This project will determine the presence or absence of microplastics: their type and quantities. The City of Saskatoon and the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund approved our funding request and we are set to begin our study this summer.
This project involves Dr. Markus Brinkman, Assistant Professor School of Environment and Sustainability. He will support us with his technical expertise and equipment. In addition, we have also partnered with the Safe Drinking Water Foundation to help educate and communicate about the threats of microplastic pollution.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on the occurrence of microplastics in the water cycle (including both tap and bottled drinking-water and its sources), the potential health impacts from microplastic exposure, and the removal of microplastics during wastewater and drinking-water treatment. The report also indicates that, to date, there is not enough sufficient data to make any definite assumptions on the occurrence of microplastics in drinking water. The WHO recommends that more “well-designed and quality-controlled investigative studies should be carried out to better understand microplastics occurrence throughout the water supply chain, including the numbers, shapes, sizes, composition and sources of microplastics and to better characterize the effectiveness of water treatment.”
We hope that with our microplastics project we will be able to gather baseline data in order to monitor the presence of microplastics in our river system as well as informing policymakers for future developments in regards to water quality.