University of Windsor, partners receive funding to fight microplastics

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A team of scientists led by a researcher at the University of Windsor has received $ 1 million in funding to tackle microplastic pollution.

A key to the research, aimed at developing new tools to test, analyze and track the pollutant in Ontario, will be to determine where it all comes from.

“Canadian and international concerns are growing about the risks associated with the ubiquity, accumulation and potential for ingestion of microplastics, especially now that they are found in such remote environments, far from any obvious source. Said project coordinator Jill Crossman, professor in the School of the Environment at the University of Windsor. “To get a clear idea of ​​where microplastics are going, we will be tracking and testing what proportion of microplastics are in the atmosphere, in watersheds and in the soil in remote, rural and urban areas of Ontario.

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic with a virtually endless list of possible sources, from industrial operations and fishing nets to cosmetics and water bottles.

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The team received nearly $ 1 million as part of the Plastics Science for a Cleaner Future program. The program is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

To help reduce the international pollution crisis, Crossman said researchers must unravel the mystery of where microplastics come from and how they travel.

“There are serious knowledge gaps that limit our ability to track plastics already in the environment and these gaps remain a major obstacle to effective policy implementation,” she said.

The team will visit industrial, agricultural and urban sites throughout the year to identify sources and pathways.

Members of the University of Windsor on the project include Crossman, Scott Mundle, Bulent Mutus, James Gauld and Simon Rondeau-Gagné.

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The team also includes researchers from the University of Toronto, Trent University, Western University, Wilson Analytical, Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Toronto Region. Conservation Authority.

With federal and municipal stakeholders on board, the knowledge gained from the program can be applied to support microplastics mitigation policies across Canada, the University of Windsor said.

Mutus, Rondeau-Gagné and Gauld, from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will develop new tools for the analysis of high-resolution samples. Mutus will also lead the development of new real-time sensors.

Mundle, a professor at the School of the Environment and a researcher at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, is working to develop new ways of finding the source of pollutants using mass spectrometry. It is the process of vaporizing a sample to analyze its molecular composition.

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The technique will help researchers find unique signatures for chemicals based on their source, which are identifiable as they move through the environment. This will provide a ‘fingerprint’ for the plastics, allowing the team to determine where the plastics came from and how they were transported.

The study also includes the creation of an open access data portal to facilitate future research.

“The field of microplastics analysis is relatively new, so in addition to the lack of data, there is a lack of consistent approaches to analysis, which so far has limited our ability to compare results between studies, ”Crossman said. “This program fills those gaps.

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