A collaboration between Okanagan College students and community partners is looking to determine the state of plastic pollution in Okanagan Lake.
The Microplastics Okanagan organization was launched in August of last year, born out of the experiences of Kelowna residents Gregg Howald, Ryan Cope and Jan Vozenilek while at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific Ocean.
“Microplastics are a global issue, and we are only now beginning to investigate the implications of plastics that could persist for centuries in our ecosystems,” said Howald, the CEO of FreshWater Life.
Upon the launch of Microplastics Okanagan, water samples were taken from the lake in the Kelowna area. These samples were collected using what is called a manta trawl, a long-armed float that skims the surface with a net.
Five different locations were chosen along the Okanagan for the study, including north and south of the W.R. Bennett Bridge, near the outflow of Kelowna’s wastewater treatment facility, around the mouth of Mission Creek, and further south of the creek.
This sample collecting was followed by the sampling of wastewater from the treatment facility by the City of Kelowna in fall 2021.
Cope, the founder of Seven in the Ocean, said that this particular study helps the team understand the issue from a local perspective.
Eight students and professors from Okanagan College’s Water Engineering Technology (WET) program joined the project to analyze the samples, where they found that there were microplastics present in both water sources.
The concentration, however, appears to be low relative to similar water sources, like the Great Lakes.
“We are talking about teaspoons of plastic over 30,000 litres of water,” said Erin Radomske, WET professor. “However, these findings remind us that people should continue to be mindful of their behaviours as it relates to plastics. That little bit of plastic that flies off the boat or falls in the creek, breaks down and can accumulate. We all need to be mindful of our own choices and influences.”
Microplastics, plastic that is less than five millimetres in diameter, can be separated into two categories: primary, which consists of purpose-built products like microbeads, and secondary, meaning particles that have been shed from larger macroplastics.
The release of the findings is timely in nature, as World Water Day is Tuesday, March 22.