By: Donna Macalle-Holly
In the summer of 2021, researchers from Dr. Allison Fitzgerald’s lab at New Jersey City University conducted the first study of microplastics in Lake Hopatcong. Microplastics are very small plastic pieces that measure less than five millimeters across. They are often the result of the breakdown of larger plastic items such as plastic bags or bottles, dust from car and truck tires, or even clothing made of fleece or nylon, which can shed microplastic fibers when washed.
These microplastics can cause issues in wildlife when ingested, may release harmful chemicals, and have the potential to affect the balance of entire ecosystems. These plastic particles can also be transferred along the foodchain, with potential consequences for human health.
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation met with Dr. Fitzgerald and her team to determine sampling sites around the lake and provided boat transportation to the sites that were not accessible from the shoreline.
For the study, a net system for sampling surface water, called a manta trawl, was used to sample four sites by boat and seven sites along the shoreline from docks. Water samples were collected from each site, along with aquatic plant samples from sites that had plants.
The microplastics found in the lake were divided into four categories: microfibers, microfilaments, microfragments, and microbeads. Karla Gonzalez, research assistant to Dr. Fitzgerald, describes the difference in the types of microplastics as follows:
The research team concluded that there were more microfibers and microfilaments found throughout the lake than any other microplastic. These particles could have entered the lake through such items as plastic tarps, clothing, or fishing line. Click below for a summary of the microplastics survey.
The research team plans to continue the study on Lake Hopatcong in 2022 with possible plans to include sampling at Lake Musconetcong as well.
In 2015, the U.S. banned the use of microbeads with the Microbead-Free Waters Act. Last year, in November, New Jersey’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act required restaurants to provide plastic straws only upon request, and this year, a ban on plastic bags and foam food containers will be enacted starting in May. More information can be found HERE.
You can do your part by using less plastic and switching to reusable bags, cups, straws, and containers, and remember, whenever possible, to reduce, reuse, and recycle! Or if you want to take it one step further, find out more about the Zero Waste Movement at Zero Waste 101: Everything You Need to Know.