Plastic debris in freshwater lakes rivals concentrations in oceans

New research suggests that plastic is not just an oceanic problem – scientists found that sediments from Italy's alpine Lake Garda had about the same levels of microplastics as those found in saltwater beaches. 

Sherri Mason, right, a chemist with State University of New York at Fredonia, works aboard a research vessel on Lake Erie with a device that skims the water surface collecting samples in finely meshed netting. Last year, her team found a surprisingly high concentration of plastics in the Great Lakes.

Plastic is leaching not only into the world's salty oceans, but also freshwater mountain lakes.

German scientists studied beach sediments from Lake Garda, a popular tourist destination nestled in Italy's northern alpine region. The freshwater lake is also a source of drinking water and offers a setting in stark contrast to the world's polluted oceans. (By some estimates, as much as 80 percent of seawater litter is plastic.)

But researchers found that this remote, subalpine lake actually contained about as many microplastic particles as scientists have found in marine beach sediments. Using microspectroscopy, the team discovered that the particles typically hailed from larger particles of consumer products. 

"We show that even in a subalpine lake the amount of plastic particles is reaching similar magnitudes as in marine environments," the team wrote in the study.

Among the smaller particles, scientists found polyvinylchloride – considered one of the five most hazardous plastic polymers.

The researchers also warn that the size of the microplastics found on the Lake Garda beaches means a number of freshwater organisms could be ingesting them, creating the risk of build-up in their bodies. 

"The resulting bioaccumulation of microplastic particles underpins that contamination with plastic debris may be as hazardous to the biota of freshwater habitats as for marine organisms," they wrote.

The findings are the latest evidence that suggests plastic debris is as big a problem in freshwater as in the ocean. The research complements a 2010 study that examined plastic particles in Lake Huron (one of North America's five Great Lakes). Plastic pellets, which fish can mistake as food, made up 94 percent of the plastic scientists found. 

Just two years later, researcher Sherri Mason at the State University of New York at Fredonia discovered a surprisingly high concentration of plastic in the Great Lakes. 

This growing body of research raises anew the concern about the journey of plastic from product to ocean dump to dining room table. One Scripps team dissected 141 North Pacific fish and found that about nine percent had plastic in their stomach. But scientists are still studying whether plastic in the fish food chain is actually reaching humans.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Plastic debris in freshwater lakes rivals concentrations in oceans
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today