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Study finds microplastics present in peninsula water bodies

Microplastic found in Tern Lake viewed under a microscope
Dyani Chapman
Microplastic found in Tern Lake viewed under a microscope

Microplastics can be derived from materials like clothing fiber, fishing line and plastic bags. They can be mistaken for food by small animals and cause digestive, mobility and fertility issues. Microplastics can also absorb heavy metals and certain pesticides, which can cause cancer, hormonal and developmental issues in humans.

That’s according to Dyani Chapman, state director of the center. She also co-authored the new study.

“There’s been a lot of different surveys around the globe looking for microplastics, and they find it in most places," Chapman said. "I definitely expected that we were going to find some microplastics, but as the summer progressed and every single sample that we looked at had microplastics in it, that was pretty disappointing.”

The most common type of microplastic the study found were fibers from clothing, textiles and fishing line. All 13 samples from the Kenai Peninsula, which included water from Beluga Lake, Sport Lake and Tern Lake, found concentrations of these microplastics. Film from plastic packaging and bags was also common.

Chapman says microplastics were found in locations such as the Bridge Creek Reservoir, a public water utility for the City of Homer. They were also found in high concentrations in Kenai Lake.

The study found rural bodies of water had higher concentrations of microplastics, indicating that some of them ended up there via precipitation from other parts of the world. Local pollution of microplastics also contributed.

“What that means is that we need to tackle this issues of plastic pollution, both at the local level here in Alaska and we also need to work to get our federal government to take action, corporations to take action, and have global action on the problem,” Chapman said.  

Chapman says one solution is for producers of plastic packaging products to pass a producer responsibility bill, which would require companies to implement a plan for plastic packaging after it’s used. She also suggests retailers stop sending unused clothing to landfills and incinerators, and for consumers to purchase more clothing made from natural fibers or easily mended material.

“Alaska’s relative geographic isolation and population hasn’t protected us from microplastics, and so we really need to take action and stop more microplastics from getting out into our environment and into our water," Chapman said. "Nothing that we use for just a couple minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years.” 

For more on the study, visit the Alaska Environment Research and Policy Center’s website.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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