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Canada funds seven microplastic research projects at universities

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University of Toronto pELAstic project lead Chelsea Rochman will use new funding to continue her team’s research at the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area. The team is pictured here adding colourful microplastic to corrals for study. Photo credit: Chelsea Rochman/Twitter

Canada is investing $7 million over seven projects that it hopes will take marine plastic pollution research to new levels at universities in three provinces.

As Canada moves towards achieving zero plastic waste by 2030, the latest funding announcement through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada aims to close gaps in knowledge and improve understanding of the threats posed by marine plastic pollution, particularly microplastics.

The new funding — approximately $1 million per project — will facilitate research at universities in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.

“Canadians can see all too clearly that we have a plastics pollution problem, but measuring the specific harms of plastics in our environment requires scientific assessment,” announced Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

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On May 12, the final Order adding plastic manufactured items to Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, to address the potential ecological risks associated with certain plastic manufactured items.

At the University of British Columbia, the new federal funding means that project lead Maria Maldonado plans to examine microplastics in the Strait of Georgia and its urbanized watershed.

At the Université du Québec à Rimouski, project lead Zhe Lu has received funding for research into microplastics and plastic additives in the St. Lawrence River and Estuary. Lu focuses on ecotoxicology, environmental chemistry and oceanography.

Through the University of Toronto, project lead Chelsea Rochman will use the funding to continue her pELAstic research at the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area with its 58 lakes. The project is described as aiming to “gain a better understanding of the physical and chemical fate of microplastics, and how they impact ecosystems across all levels of biological organization, from molecules to ecosystems.”

At the University of Guelph, ecotoxicology professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and principal investigator of the new project, Ryan Prosser, will examine the risk of microplastics to Canada’s ecosystems. The particles are small enough to be taken up by plants or ingested by microbes or creatures near the bottom of the food chain, from insects to mollusks.

“Now that we realize that they’re ubiquitous, the next question is: What adverse effect can they have on the ecosystem, whether on land or in the aquatic environment?” asked Prosser in a statement.

At the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Daniel Cyr plans to assess the toxicity and inflammatory response associated with human exposure to nanoplastics.

At the University of Waterloo, faculty of science professor Philippe Van Cappellen has received funding to examine microplastics fingerprinting at the watershed scale.

Finally, at the University of Windsor, assistant professor Jill Crossman will research source-specific identification, characterization and control of microplastics across a remote, rural and urban gradient.

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