UWS researcher seeks plastics in Great LakesWhen it comes to finding small plastic particles in the Great Lakes, nobody does is better than Lorena Rios-Mendoza.
When it comes to finding small plastic particles in the Great Lakes, nobody does is better than Lorena Rios-Mendoza.
Water quality and fish species depend on the job for which she is passionate.
“I like it because it’s something we can show the community that we need to be careful with the plastics, said Rios-Mendoza. “We need to work together to say plastic is bad, just recycle and reuse. We have no idea how long some of these plastics stay in the ocean — could be more than 40 years.”
The amount of plastic debris increases every day and degrades slowly; it never disappears, it only disperses.
The UWS assistant professor of chemistry is doing research that is getting local, regional, national and international attention.
She first started her research in 2003 at the University of the Pacific working with support of Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif., where she looked into macro and micro plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean and found the plastic problem there was a concern. When she joined the UWS staff in 2010, she decided to take a closer look into plastics and the water quality in Lake Superior and started doing her scientific research in 2011.
The tiny plastics that they are finding now on the Great Lakes are so small they are not getting stopped at waste treatment plants and find their way eventually into the Great Lakes. Some of the plastics they are finding are very large and researchers also are finding other dangerous debris that finds its way into the water as well.
Rios-Mendoza is working with 5 Gyres Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group, and together they are doing more research this week. The group will be heading to Lake Michigan first, than Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Other research stops are expected on the Sea Dragon research boat with an expected return Wednesday.
Last year, the research that Rios-Mendoza and her team collected was aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara a wood sailboat that she was not only a research and scientist on, but also a member of the sailing team. She had to assist with chores during the entire journey. They made stops on Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie in the summer of 2012 and Rios-Mendoza and her team collected 22 samples in the Great Lakes a year ago. She worked with Sherri Mason, a chemist with State University of New York-Fredonia. Rios-Mendoza said she found more micro plastic debris in the ocean by weight than in Lake Erie. But in Lake Erie there was more quantity in a condensed form.
She took a student researcher with her on the ten-day journey. Rios-Mendoza will also be working with high school teachers around the country and giving them insight into her microplastics research work along the Great Lakes.
Rios-Mendoza said it is very important that we find alternatives to plastics that don’t harm the water or aquatic organisms such as fish and one way to do that is think about how you use plastic. Education is the key, she said.