A University of Waterloo-based project has launched a new website to detail progress towards identifying science-informed strategies for the problem of microplastics in drinking water sources.
The Microplastics Fingerprinting Research Project looks to analyze the reactivity and breakdown of microplastics in river systems and reservoirs. Researchers also hope to determine the amount of microplastics entering the lower Great Lakes, while optimizing microplastics elimination in wastewater treatment plants.
The Microplastics Fingerprinting Research Project team consists of over 25 faculty members, masters and PhD students, and support staff from various disciplinary backgrounds.
In one of the first posts on the new website, the research team issued a call for microplastic samples that could be “used to strengthen a microplastics fingerprint library,” and speed up the workflow process for sampling.
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The project has four main objectives: improve the detection and analysis of microplastics; track the movement and fate of microplastic pollution at the watershed scale; assess climate vulnerability and exposure pathways to the lower Great Lakes; and to reduce point source inputs and develop risk mitigation strategies.
In terms of quantifying microplastics, it can be a difficult feat.
“One challenge associated with studying microplastics is the lack of tools and techniques that can be used to quickly determine the concentration, size and composition of microplastics,” the new Microplastics Fingerprinting Research Project website states.
When it comes to tracking the movement of microplastics pollution, the Microplastics Fingerprinting Research Project will use predictive models to gain insights into where plastics are coming from and how they tend to move through rivers to Lake Erie.
The project team will also examine exposure pathways, and researchers will consider microplastics’ movement through the watershed due to severe rainfall and snowmelt events.
Finally, researchers will conduct an economic analysis of microplastics pollution into the Great Lakes in terms of costs and benefits.
“We examine how concepts such as the circular economy could be applied to help eliminate plastic waste and promote resource recovery,” the Microplastics Fingerprinting Research Project website states.
The new website will publish research updates and findings to collaborators and other microplastics researchers. It is an integrated research project that relies on partnerships with the private sector, governments, NGOs, watershed organizations and water utilities.
Thus far, the University of Waterloo has partnered with the City of Brantford, EPCOR Water Services, Inc., Environment and Climate Change Canada, Environmental Defence, Hoola One Technologies, Ontario Clean Water Agency, the Region of Waterloo, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.