GBF - 2019 Winter Newsletter

GBF.ORG | WINTER 2019 | 7 6 | WINTER 2019 | GBF.ORG ONTARIO AND THE GREAT LAKES ARE NOT IMMUNE TO CLIMATE CHANGE Over the past several years we have had hotter summers with more tropical nights, milder winters with more rain and less ice coverage on the Great Lakes. There have also been changes in plant and animal ranges and spawning cycles. The province now has the highest number of Lyme disease cases in Canada as the disease- carrying ticks migrate northward at a rate of about 12 – 15 km a decade according to Public Health Ontario. Significant changes and fluctuating extremes in our weather are costly both in terms of dollars and human lives. Two of eight 2018 examples from Carto’s presentation included extreme rainfall in south-western Ontario that led to extensive flooding and displacement of thousands of people that cost insurers more than $40M, and hurricane force winds (>100 km/h) in the GTA last spring that cost more than $380M. Distressingly, data attributed more than 70 deaths in Quebec to a prolonged heat wave in June that Ontario also experienced but uses different criteria to report. Furthermore, in the 1980s, scientists started to notice these changes to the world’s largest lake system, the Great Lakes basin: • rising air and water temperatures; • milder winters and hotter summers with more extreme rainfalls; • increasing summer evaporation rates and declining ice coverage; and • falling water levels—even though levels have rebounded since 2013, the long-term trend is heading downward. While there are some “benefits” to these changes, there are also significant drawbacks: while the boating season may be getting longer, the ice fishing season is getting shorter. Lowwater levels and less ice coverage are damaging shorelines, beaches and wetlands that help maintain water quality and serve as spawning grounds for aquatic life. Without protective ice cover, winter storms result in fewer fish eggs surviving to hatch in the spring. Flashier, more intense storms bring more nutrient-rich run-off THE TIPPING POINT THE MYSTERIES OF MICROPLASTICS Last fall, Georgian Bay Forever embarked on an exciting new project in partnership with Dr. Chelsea Rochman and the Town of Parry Sound, to ‘Divert and Capture’ microfibres from the town’s wastewater. The two-and-a-half year pilot project is largely funded by an EcoAction grant from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Professor Rochman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. She spoke at H 2 O about her passion for reducing plastics that get into our waterways. It all started in 2006 when she read an article by Kenneth Weiss of the LA Times. The piece was about an island of trash in the North Pacific, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch that is twice the size of Texas. The article earned Weiss a Pulitzer Prize and prompted Dr. Rochman to go and see for herself this startling phenomenon. “Looking at the surface of the water on a calm day, I noticed that most of the stuff was tiny bits of microplastics less than 5 mm in diameter,” she told the audience. “And I thought, the small stuff could really be worse because it has the opportunity to contaminate every level of the food chain. And the reality is, that it has,” she said. Microplastics (< than 5 mm) come from a variety of sources, are found in many shapes, forms and sizes, and typically contain a variety of different contaminants. From discarded plastic containers to synthetic microfibres found in clothing and upholstery to microbeads used in personal care products, microplastics are global contaminants that could become even more dangerous through their absorption of hazardous chemicals like PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants and other toxic substances we have put in their surrounding environment. Microfibres are among the most common type of plastic found. They are in our oceans—on the sea floor, the surface and everywhere in between. They are also in the soil, atmosphere and in our lakes and streams says Dr. Rochman. And, they are in our sea- food and drinking water. “We are literally eating and drinking our own trash,” Dr. Rochman said. Recent studies conducted by Dr. Rochman and her students and colleagues found that most nearshore fish in Lake Ontario contain microfibres: anywhere from 1 to 20 or 30 fibres per fish. They were also found in 100% of offshore fish in Lakes Huron and Ontario. In fact, almost 97% of microplastics found in Rainbow Smelt and Lake Trout were microfibres—up to 70 microfibres per fish. Research teams tested drinking water from different treatment plants in Lakes Erie, Huron and Ontario and found about 12 fibres and three fragments of plastic per litre of finished drinking water, the water we drink from the tap. So where do these contaminants come from? A variety of sources, including cigarette butts, textiles, upholstery, wet wipes and laundry . A 2011 study was the first to draw a link between microfibres and laundry lint. Turns out that fibres from both natural and synthetic fabrics, as well as all the chemicals they contain, are released during washing and end up in our water treatment system. While our heroic water treatment plants get rid of most of them, up to 40% of these fibres end up in aquatic habitat (Hartline et.). At more than 4 million microplastic particles per facility per day, microfibres are the most abundant microplastic found in Toronto wastewater treatment plants. Based on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, Dr. Rochman estimates that between 23 and 36 trillion microfibres are emitted each year into Toronto’s waste water from washing machine effluent. That’s when she turned her attention to mitigation strategies and testing two different ways Microplastic Flow of Plastic Trends in Research and flooding that can damage property and infrastructure, erode coastlines, and increase phosphorous levels resulting in nuisance and toxic algae blooms. Water temperatures in the Great Lakes are expected to rise between 1˚C and 7˚C within the next century making our lakes more favourable for invasive species. There are cur- rently more than 200 non-native species in the basin that can kill off native species, disrupt the food web, degrade habitat and introduce parasites and disease. Warmer water also affects fish: both warm and cold water fish have moved north- ward at a rate of about 12 – 17 km a decade over the past 30 years, and this trend is expect- ed to continue. Dwindling ice coverage during the winter puts plankton and fish eggs at greater risk. Greater lake stratification means less turnover of the water in the spring, which, in turn, creates dead zones in the productive, lower levels of the lakes where oxygen supplies have been depleted. Plastic microfibres are released from this synthetic blanket during laundering. Go to to find out about washing machine filters. Photo courtesy of the Rochman Lab. In view of these and other changes to our environment, the question becomes: is it too late to turn back the clock and stop the del- eterious effects of global warming? According to Dr. Carto, and the United Nations we have about 10 – 12 years to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emmissions (GHG) to avoid massive disruptions to our ecosystems and way of life. As the second top polluter in the country, Ontario was well on its way to helping Canada deliver on its commitment under the Paris Accord to reduce CO 2 emissions to 30% of 2005 levels by 2030 with the cap-and-trade program introduced in April 2017. Last fall, Ontario’s newly elected government cancelled the program and re- placed it with its own plan to combat climate change, a plan Environment Minister Rod Phillips says still aims to meet the targets set out in the Paris Accord. We can hope that’s true, even though the environmental commis- sioner has said it is only 1/3 as ambitious as the plan it replaced. The government also has eliminated the independence of the Environ- mental Commissioner’s office as a watchdog for GHG emissions in Ontario. We as individuals can step in where our governments are floundering to save our homes, our country, our planet and the future. According to Dr. Carto, many of the actions required to reduce CO 2 levels are underway but they need to be accelerated. “Our choices, right now, matter. Every action matters.” THINGS YOU CAN DO: 1. Change how you get around. Buy an electric vehicle, car-pool, bike or take transit. Find out why electric cars are viable at: vehicle-discovery-centre/ 2. Reduce your meat consumption. Eating 1 kilogram of beef contributes the same emissions as driving 176 kilometres with a combustible engine. As a comparison, 1 kilo of eggs is equivalent to 31 kilometres. Find the graph of more food types at: food-climate-change-carbon-foot- print-1.4930062 3. Advocate for more protected land and programs that conserve forests, wetlands and ecosystems. Join and support GBF’s fight for coastal wetlands. Learn more at: to trap microfibres before they escape down the drain and into our wastewater. Filters , that can be attached to washing machines to capture microfibres before they are released into wastewater, came out on top. Dr. Rochman’s lab studies showed that filters could reduce microfibres released during washing by 87%. And that’s where Georgian Bay Forever and the municipality of Parry Sound come in. In collaboration with Dr. Rochman’s lab, we are conducting a larger scale trial of the filters to see if we can capture and divert microfibres from entering the waters of Georgian Bay by installing 100 or more of them on washing machines in Parry Sound households. With the help and cooperation of Parry Sound’s waste- water treatment plant staff, we’ll monitor differences in microfibre levels in the town’s treated water over the next couple of years. → INSIGHTS FROM H 2 O CONTINUED: DR. CARTO’S PRESENTATION “Economists and scientists agree that putting a price on carbon is the most effective way to bring down GHG emissions.” — Dr. Carto Amount reaching the ocean 4.8 – 12.7 million metric tons per year GBF notes: and to your freshwater bodies Mismanaged plastic waste leaked into the environment 31.9 million metric tons per year GBF notes: While wastewater treatment plants can capture up to 99% of microplastics from your laundry and other sources, millions get through to our water every day. Also, more can come from the sludge given to farmers for fertilizer Courtesy of the Rochman Lab. . MICROPLASTICS EVERYWHERE INSIGHTS FROM H 2 O CONTINUED: DR. ROCHMAN