University of Saskatchewan (USask) toxicologist Markus Brinkmann has previously done research on how different chemicals can affect different critters in rivers and streams.
Now, he has partnered with South Saskatchewan River Watershed Stewards (SSRWS) to determine microplastic levels in the water.
“They can be different polymers so they could be polyethylene, polypropylene — different types of plastics,” Brinkmann explained.
“The way they make their way into the environment can be quite different which makes them so interesting.”
One way microplastic levels rise is from plastic litter making its way into the river.
“We’ll find lots of plastic debris around the banks and then, while it’s being conveyed down the river, will turn into microplastics because it gets smaller,” Brinkmann said.
Water is being tested at six different sites along the South Saskatchewan River. Samples are pumped out and will be tested in the fall. While there aren’t results yet, some of the areas, like the Fred Heal Canoe Launch have more plastic waste along the riverbank.
“You find water bottles there and plastic bags,” SSRWS watershed technician Juliane Schultz noticed while collecting water samples.
“I would definitely say that in the more populated or more popular areas you will find more litter around the shoreline.”
Some microplastics enter water in less obvious ways, such as from city storm runoffs. Even broken-down clothing fibres contain microplastics, which can end up in the river when cleaning clothes.
There are a couple of ways to prevent microplastics from going into wastewater when doing laundry.
“Either install an inline filter behind the washer before it goes down the sewer or add little devices to each wash that would then collect the fibres out of each load that you wash,” Brinkmann suggests.
The team hopes results will encourage people in Saskatoon to litter less and be more aware of the damage it can do to the ecosystem.
“It’s maybe something people can visualize and have an understanding of what is happening in our river,” Schultz said.
With more funding, the team would like to see how microplastic levels impact organisms in the South Saskatchewan River. From there, they could see how microplastics move up through the food chain and see if people are consuming fish exposed to high microplastic levels.