Researchers funded to examine microplastic contamination in the Great Lakes system

Tirupati Bolisetti at the Credit River bridge in Mississauga

Dr. Tirupati Bolisetti, pictured at the Credit River bridge in Mississauga, and a team of interdisciplinary researchers are investigating how microplastics originate and get transported to the western basin of Lake Ontario.

Besides providing drinking water for more than 30 million people in North America, the Great Lakes play a vital role in the economy’s transportation, power and agriculture sectors.

Plastic pollution in these water bodies has been widely acknowledged for a great deal of time, says Tirupati Bolisetti, an environmental engineering professor at UWindsor. 

However, microplastics — particles that are 5 mm or smaller in size — hidden in the water are posing a much bigger problem for aquatic and human life.

“These ubiquitous microplastics are finding their way into the natural waters due to improper disposal of plastics, which degrade into small pieces,” Dr. Bolisetti says. “They come from plastic packaging, cosmetics, textiles, automotive components and plastic litter thrown on the beaches, to name a few.”

Some of these microplastics in the form of synthetic microfibers are also released from our wastewater systems, he adds.

A team of interdisciplinary researchers from the University of Windsor, including Bolisetti and Dr. Ram Balachandar, are collaborating with Dr. Shooka Karimpour and other researchers from York University to understand how microplastics originate and get transported to the western basin of Lake Ontario, called the Niagara basin. 

The researchers will conduct combined field investigations and mathematical modeling studies to understand the dynamics of microplastics in Lake Ontario and its drainage areas. The team will also assess the toxicity of microplastics and look into the impact of variability of the influx of microplastics on the native and invasive organisms.

The $493,400 project funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) under the Alliance Grant program is led by Dr. Karimpour and Dr. Bolisetti and supported by Environment and Climate Change Canada; the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; and Pollution Probe.