Microplastics are small plastic items that measure less than five millimeters in length. They are derived from the degradation of larger plastic items, such as bottles, bags, and food packaging. Over time, these items get broken down into smaller fragments by exposure to the elements. Microplastics have been found in oceans, rivers, and other water bodies, including Lake Michigan. So, this raises the question: Are microplastics in our tap water a real concern?
For many Chicago business owners and office managers, the safety and health of their employees are a top priority. So, when it comes to the quality of your office drinking water, microplastics should never cross your mind. Yet, it’s something we hear far too often here at Office H2O, which means it’s worth a discussion about whether or not a bottleless water cooler or reverse osmosis system is in your future. But first, let’s talk about why microplastics in our tap water are such a big deal.
Where Do Microplastics in Lake Michigan Come From?
Microplastics in Lake Michigan originate from a variety of sources. One of the primary contributors is urban runoff, which carries plastic debris from Chicago and our surrounding suburbs into nearby water systems. This debris often comes from discarded plastic items such as bags, bottles, and packaging that have been broken down into smaller pieces by natural elements like sun and rain.
Additionally, microplastics can also enter the water system through wastewater treatment plants. These facilities often fail to entirely capture microplastics from household and industrial waste before discharging treated water into the lakes. This waste can include fragments from synthetic clothing, cosmetics, and personal care products that contain microbeads—a type of microplastic.
Moreover, recreational activities near the lake, such as fishing and boating, can also contribute to the problem by introducing plastic waste into the water. Despite these activities often being regulated, accidental loss or deliberate dumping of plastic items continues to add to the microplastic pollution in Lake Michigan.
It’s worth noting that once microplastics enter the lake, they can take hundreds to thousands of years to fully degrade, creating a long-lasting impact on the ecosystem. Moreover, due to their minute size and buoyancy, they can easily be carried by wind and currents, spreading the problem far and wide.