Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
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BGSU professor to examine wastewater for plastic pollution

John Farver granted $14,930 to find microplastics

OAK HARBOR, Ohio — Sewage treatment plants in Toledo and Cleveland will soon be examined to see what tiny bits of plastic — known as “microplastics” — are eluding them.

The Ohio Lake Erie Commission today agreed to grant John Farver, a Bowling Green State University geology professor, $14,930 to hunt down tiny bits of plastic barely visible to the human eye, such as plastics used in clothing fibers, that make their way into wastewater.

Plastic pollution has gained worldwide attention in recent years, resulting in congressional action in the United States to ban tiny pieces known as “microbeads” about a year ago. This research project calls for sampling for evidence of plastic even smaller than that. Manufacturers of personal care items, where many of those microbeads were used, also voluntarily agreed to begin phasing them out.

The belief is that, over time, tiny bits of plastic work their way into the guts of fish and wildlife, eventually into the human food chain. Larger plastics, such as tiny fragments of discarded water and soda bottles and milk jugs, also continues to be an issue among scientists in the Great Lakes region and in oceans.

There is relatively little research involving wastewater discharges, though.

A couple of years ago, when Congress began looking into the issue, most of the evidence was based on sampling of what came out of upstate New York sewage plants.

“This is an emerging issue across all of the Great Lakes,” Karl Gephardt, an Ohio EPA deputy director who serves as the commission’s executive director and a key adviser to the Kasich administration on Lake Erie issues, said. “It's really a multi-country, multi-lake issue we're starting to take a look at.”

In other action, the commission approved another $15,000 for Kevin King, an Ohio State University agricultural researcher, to continue studies into whether gypsum can effectively remove phosphorus if applied to farm fields.

The theory is phosphorus, the primary nutrient for western Lake Erie algae, may bind to gypsum without impacting crop yields. The research began a few years ago, and was approved for more study.

The two grants were approved at today’s Ohio Lake Erie Commission meeting at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Ottawa County, along State Rt. 2.

Also approved was a $15,000 grant to help with the next phase of planning for a Cuyahoga River restoration project.

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