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Study: All 53 Pennsylvania rivers and waterways surveyed contained microplastic contamination

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Posted: Mar 5, 2021 11:33 AM

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    HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPMT) -- A new study released Wednesday by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found that all 53 of waterways tested across Pennsylvania contained microplastic contamination -- including the Susquehanna River.

The report provides new data on the presence of microplastics in water samples taken at many of Pennsylvania’s most popular rivers, lakes, and streams, including from the Susquehanna River, Codorus Creek, and Conodoguinet Creek, PennEnvironment said in a press release.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters in diameter, which is smaller than a grain of rice.

A full list of waterways tested and the types of microplastics at each can be found in the report.

“The results of this study should set off alarms for all Pennsylvanians who love our state's rivers and streams," said Faran Savitz, Conservation Associate at the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. "The staggering amount of microplastics we found likely means that no river, lake, or stream is safe from this increasingly common contaminant."

The report’s findings were announced at a PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center virtual news conference with U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5), State Reps. Tim Briggs (Montgomery County) and Perry Warren (Bucks County). Dr. David Velinsky, Vice President of Academy Science at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and Myrna Newman, the Executive Director of Allegheny CleanWays also spoke.

“PennEnvironment's push to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic and microplastic use. Items like styrofoam containers, plastic bags, and other single-use plastic objects routinely end up in landfills and incinerators where they deteriorate our environment and exacerbate public health problems,” said Scanlon. “When we incinerate these types of products, harmful toxins and chemicals are released into the air we breathe, and this disproportionately affects our most vulnerable communities.

"This is unjust, and companies that produce these products must know that we will not stand for their rampant use that ends up harming our constituents in the process”

Americans generate more than 35 million tons of plastic waste every year and less than 10 percent is recycled, according to PennEnvironment. The rest ends up as litter or gets sent to landfills or incinerators, where it will release microplastics over time that can get carried by wind or rain into the environment.

Microfibers, a type of plastic found in every waterway, come from textiles and are shed through normal wear and tear or routine machine washing, where they are then carried to waterways.

It’s almost impossible for water treatment plants to filter these pollutants out, PennEnvironment said.

Results for each waterway and photos from sampling can be found in this map from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. Locations are tagged at the approximate point where samples were taken.

River clean-ups and conservation efforts help with more visible forms of litter and pollution, PennEnvironment said, but the small size of microplastics makes it easy for them to travel from their source to waterways near and far, carrying contaminants and chemicals that work their way up the food chain through wildlife and humans alike.

“If we don't want plastic in our bodies or in the bodies of fish, whales or birds, we need to stop the millions of tons of plastic that continue entering into the environment every day, every year”, said Velinsky. “As this report illustrates, the small microscopic bits and pieces of plastic are present throughout our local environment and can pose an impact to wildlife and humans.”

The report outlines a broad range of policy solutions to tackle the problem. These include passing such federal bills as the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which includes single-use plastic bans and producer responsibility provisions, and updating stormwater infrastructure to better capture rain and runoff laced with microplastics.

“There is no silver bullet solution for the mini-menace of microplastics” said Savitz. “Fundamentally, we need to cut plastic pollution off at the source and change the way society deals with our waste."

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