New testing has found microplastic contamination in each of 30 Oregon waterways tested, including in Detroit Lake, which provides Salem’s drinking water.
"The results of this study should set off alarms for all Oregonians who love our state's rivers and lakes," said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center, which released a report on the tests Monday.
Microplastics are plastic pieces less than five millimeters in length, or smaller than a grain of rice. They can harm aquatic life and get into the human food chain.
Research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shown that microplastic particles can attract heavy metals and chemical contaminants, which are then consumed by fish, birds and humans.
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Those contaminants can compromise immune function and may cause cancer, scientists say.
The researchers tested urban waterways, including the Willamette River, and remote and treasured waterways like Crater Lake and Wallowa Lake.
All of the sites contained fibers, which come from clothing like fleece. Six sites contained plastic fragments, which come from the breakdown of harder plastics or plastic feedstock. One site contained films, primarily from flexible plastic packaging.
"The staggering amount of microplastics we found likely means that no river, lake or stream is safe from this increasingly common contaminant," Meiffren-Swango said.
There is no state or federal limit for microplastics in waterways or drinking water, and no requirement to test for them.
The report recommended seven actions to reduce microplastic contamination:
Congress should pass bills like the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which includes a strong national ban on single-use plastic bags, polystyrene and other polluting single-use plastic products.
The Oregon Legislature should ban the sale and use of single-use polystyrene takeout containers and cups, packing peanuts, coolers and other product packaging.
The Oregon Legislature and Congress should pass a full Extended Producer Responsibility Law that makes manufacturers responsible for dealing with the waste their products will become.
Communities and legislators should oppose measures that double down on the fossil fuel-to-plastic or plastic-to-fuel pipeline and that incentivize the creation of new plastic.
State and local governments should pass laws preventing overstock clothing from being sent to landfills so that clothing manufacturers and retailers stop producing more clothing than they can sell.
Cities should develop green infrastructure and stormwater programs to help stem the tide of plastics and microplastics being washed into our waterways and greater environment.
Oregon should require filters on all new washing machines to prevent microplastics from ending up in our waterways.
Tracy Loew is a reporter at the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com, 503-399-6779 or on Twitter at @Tracy_Loew. Support local journalism by subscribing to the Statesman Journal.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Microplastic contamination found in each of 30 Oregon waterways tested