Quirks & Quarks

Plastic Pollution Plagues the St. Lawrence

Microplastic beads have been found in St. Lawrence River sediments for the first time....
Microbead sample, probably from cosmetics or cleaners. (Courtesy of McGill University)

Microplastic beads have been found in St. Lawrence River sediments for the first time.

Microplastic pollution had been a problem in the oceans for many years. This can be plastic broken down into tiny fragments over time, or it can be in the form of microbeads, which are tiny, often colourful, pellets of plastic used in many cosmetics and household cleaners. They are commonly found floating in the surface water, and can number in the thousands per litre. But recently, Dr. Anthony Ricciardi, an Associate Professor and Invasive Species Biologist at McGill University in Montreal, was shocked to find them in the sediment at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, in similar quantities as those found in oceans. The beads sink to the bottom as they acquire micro-organisms, which absorb toxins, such as PCBs.  Further research is required to determine if the harmful microbeads will make their way into the food chain.

Related Links

  • Paper in Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
  • McGill University release
  • CBC News story
  • CBC TV News story


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