Plastic Everywhere

A translation by Judith Turcotte

In ’’Invisible Crisis “a recent blog, I had written a paragraph on microplastics that were found in the St. Lawrence River. I didn’t know at the time that the problem with plastic would make the headlines last week. When we think of the pollution due to plastics, we see images of plastic bottles floating on the surface of our rivers and oceans. What we don’t see are the microplastics. These represent a major environmental problem because of their harmful effects on wildlife and human health. Some of these tiny pieces of plastic are microscopic and are used in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. Others originate from larger plastic objects that fragment and degrade in the environment. We need only think of packaging products and plastic bags. These plastic particles infiltrate everywhere. We can find them in natural water sources, in tap water and in bottled water. It takes hundreds of years for the microplastics to decompose hence the importance of discontinuing the use of plastic.

The St. Lawrence River would be one of the most polluted waterways with microplastics on the planet, according to scientists at McGill University who have studied samples in a section of the river between lac Saint-François and Québec city. Again, according to these scientists, the microplastics found in the sediments and the water on the river’s surface would be of the same magnitude as those measured near the most populated cities of China. It is only since 2016 that the government of Canada has started investing in research to measure the effects of microplastics on the aquatic habitats, how they accumulate in the food chain and their effects on the health and reproduction of aquatic animals. We must believe that the results are convincing. In July of 2018, the government of Canada banned the fabrication and import of microbeads in toilet articles such as skin cleansers or toothpaste.

These microplastics are found in our blood because they are now part of our food chain. We find them in sea salt used in our meals, in oysters and seafood. In an Italian study on 257 patients who had undergone surgery, particles of microplastics were found in 58% of the patients. The presence of these particles increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. This study arrives at these conclusions but is not capable of determining how these microplastics found their way in the bodies.

As I write this blog, I read in Le Devoir (April 23, 2004) that Ottawa will be hosting 175 countries to debate on the plastic pollution and possibly reach a global agreement on its use. In the Devoir’s article, Alexandre Lillo, a professor of law at UQAM declares that the countries are far from an agreement. Certain countries want to reduce the production of plastic while others favour recycling.

At least, countries are talking to each other. It’s about time.

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