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Students learn about ‘Plastic Waters’

April 2, 2015
Westfield Republican

Students at Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES LoGuidice Educational Center recently learned about a new danger threatening the Great Lakes-plastics.

The students in Alternative Education program and the seniors in Career and Technical Education Conservation class participated in a presentation on plastic pollution and the impact on the Great Lakes region that was given by Dr. Sherri Mason Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences Program Coordinator at SUNY Fredonia. This presentation was made possible through the coordination effort between Dr. Mason, the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency, Sea Grant, and the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences Grant that was awarded to Julie Sek, Science Teacher in Alternative Education.

Dr. Mason began her presentation with what plastic is, and some of the problems associated with plastic. Not all plastic is "Bad" but rather the plastic that is designed to ease living, a so called "throw away convenience plastic" was the basis for the beginning of her study. There has been and continues to be an extensive amount of research surrounding the accumulation of plastic in the ocean waters, specifically those that are trapped in the Great Garbage Patch located in the Pacific Ocean Gyre. In the Gyre, ocean currents trap plastic that may break into smaller pieces but take thousands of years to degrade completely. So much plastic has accumulated in the Pacific Ocean Gyre that it is said to be twice the size of Texas. Dr. Mason's question stems from this research and focuses on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes, which is a very large fresh water resource and very important to us. In her research of surface plastic pollution, she located several types of plastic including fragments, films, foams, pellets and lines. It was very interesting to have found many perfectly round pellets that were often colored. It turns out that these round pellets were microbeads that come from many personal care products like facial cleansers and toothpaste. The students then explored a few personal care products to "find the plastic" which can be hidden in the ingredients as "polyethylene." This was very thought provoking for the students as they looked at many of the products, some which they currently use, to see how much plastic is in them, unnecessarily. These microplastics can be dangerous not only to fish and other organisms that mistake them as food, but and the plastic that cannot be digested accumulates in the organism and toxins and bacteria can build up on the plastic pieces and harm the organisms as well.

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Students at Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES LoGuidice Educational Center recently learned about a new danger threatening the Great Lakes—plastics.

Dr. Mason's focus was not only to incorporate her scientific research but to emphasize that we need to be aware of the plastics that we use and limit our use and reliance on disposable plastics, reducing the amount of plastic pollution. She introduced small concepts to reduce throw away plastics like, ask for foil when taking leftovers from a restaurant instead of a Styrofoam box and using a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water. It is some of these small changes that can lead to reduction of plastics and plastic pollution. Dr. Mason also made mention of some of the legislations that have been proposed in the banning of microbeads. New York was the first state to propose a statewide ban which has passed in the Assembly, awaiting the Senate. Illinois was the first to pass a statewide ban which will be in full effect in 2019 for manufacturing, and 2020 for sales. There is also active legislations pending in Minnesota, Texas, California, Michigan, Indiana, and Canada.

The students, staff and all those in attendance at this presentation would like to thank Dr. Mason for sharing her research and challenging us to be more conscientious in our everyday use of plastics.



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