News Home
Quick Bites
News Archive
News Channel
Special Features
On AirNewsClassical
School Closings
WKSU Support
Funding for WKSU is made possible in part through support from the following businesses and organizations.

Levin Furniture

Area Agency on Aging 10B, Inc.

For more information on how your company or organization can support WKSU, download the WKSU Media Kit.

(WKSU Media Kit PDF icon )

Donate Your Vehicle to WKSU

Programs Schedule Make A Pledge Member BenefitsFAQ/HelpContact Us
Science and Technology

Exploradio: Lake Guardian studies our impact on the Great Lakes
Scientists aboard the EPA research vessel Lake Guardian document how the personal products we wash down the drain affect the health of Lake Erie
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
The Lake Guardian sails all of the Great Lakes, but is focusing this year on the health of Lake Erie. This week scientists and teachers looked at the effects of pollution from personal care products, food production, and pharmaceuticals.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
Download (WKSU Only)
In The Region:

A team of scientists and educators is returning to Cleveland today after a week-long expedition aboard a research vessel sailing the width of Lake Erie.

Their mission was to track the spread of plastics and pollutants in the lake and determine the impact on ecosystems.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair paid a visit to the Lake Guardian just before it shipped out.

Exploradio: Lake Guardians

Other options:
Windows Media / MP3 Download (4:19)

The 180-foot-long Lake Guardian had a radically different life before the U.S. EPA, in the early 1990's, transformed it into a fully equipped, freshwater research lab.

Capt. Dave Krueger tells me that it was originally an off-shore supply vessel used in the Gulf of Mexico by the oil and gas industry.   

The new environmental mission “seems like a good use of excess oil gear,” says Krueuger.

Instead of stacks of drilling pipe, the ship now carries test tubes, sampling gear and several scientists, including Sam Mason from State University of New York, Fredonia.

She's signed on for a week of sampling Lake Erie’s waters for an unseen menace.

Floating plastic pollution fills the lake
Mason shows me her prized sampling device, a manta trawl.  Its stainless steel wings make it look like a manta ray skimming through the water, dragging a 10-foot tail.

The manta trawl's 333 micromesh net, with holes a third of millimeter in diameter is "apparently the same mesh size as wedding veil,” according to Mason.

The mesh net traps tiny bits of floating junk, a mix of plankton, plants, and debris, that she digests with chemicals that strip away the organic matter.

Mason describes the process as "magic" when different colored pieces of plastic appear in the solution, "bubbling through and going up and down like a lava lamp."

Where microbeads end up
What’s left if the chemical digestion is a pile of tiny plastic particles called microbeads. Mason says they come from an array of products like body washes, toothpastes, facial washes, and hand sanitizers.

She says the tiny plastic particles wash down the drain, pass through waste treatment plants, and float out into Lake Erie. The plankton-sized plastic is eaten by fish and works its way up the food chain.

Her discovery of microbead pollution led Illinois last month to ban their sale starting in 2018. Similar measures are being considered in Ohio, New York and California.

Antidepressants, antibiotics, and algae 
Researcher Steve Mauro from Gannon University in Erie, Pa., waits outside the nearby Great Lakes Science Center. He’s on the trip to study other pollutants that effect the health of the lake.

Mauro says the pharmaceutical Fluoxetine, the main ingredient in antidepressants, is being found in the lake, along with triclosan, an antibacterial found in many household products, and microcystin, the toxin that’s produced by cyanobacteria in harmful algal blooms.

Despite the enormous volume of water in the lake, Mauro says low levels of these chemicals are present nearly everywhere and and the combination is having adverse affects on the single-celled life forms at the base of the ecosystem.

“We’ve found that these chemicals can act synergistically with one another, so that there harmful effects are at much lower dosages when they’re combined.”

Teachers take back excitement of field research
Sixteen teachers from around the Great Lakes region spent a week on board the Lake Guardian working with Mauro, Mason and the other scientists.

Lyndsey Manzo with Ohio Sea Grant program coordinates the project. She says the goal is to bring the discoveries of field research back to the classroom.

Manzo says the educators look at research being done by scientists and, "We then can put together displays or lessons that use the data where students have to investigate. And we try to focus on developing inquiry lessons, so it’s not just direct instruction, but it’s letting them work through the data and come to their own conclusions.”

Manzo says the teachers ended the week on the lake by putting together presentations on what they learned. She says the one question they're focusing on is, “How do we impact Lake Erie?”

The answers include nutrient runoff that feeds toxic algae blooms, along with the microbeads, antidepressants and antibiotics that wash down our drains every day. 

The Lake Guardian is monitoring Lake Erie and showing that the products we use are among the major threats to its health.

(Click image for larger view.)

Add Your Comment


E-mail: (not published, only used to contact you about your comment)


Page Options

Print this page

E-Mail this page / Send mp3

Share on Facebook

Support for Exploradio
provided by:

Stories with Recent Comments

New options in Ohio for secular wedding ceremonies
Hello Mike, I support this action. I was not previously aware of the difficulty couples may encounter in locating officials to serve in their non-religious mar...

Northeast Ohio prepares for the next refugees -- whoever they may be
What a better place to place refugees than in the Midwest cities that have a steady population decline. These refugees will bring much to the culture and the ec...

Charter reform bill includes controversial change for some teachers
I work for a former White Hat charter school; it was sold to another (for-profit) company this past summer and we were told that they would not pay into STRS/PE...

Bhutanese resettlement has had a big economic impact
Informative especially for nonmembers of North Hill. I appreciate the fact that you mention that the younger generation has an easier time than the elders but t...

Ottawa County Commissioner sworn in as new house member
Congratulations on your new appointment to the Ohio House. I'm certain you will do an outstanding job in your new role representing our district. When you have...

Holden Arboretum opens a new canopy walk and emergent tower
Visited the Holden Arboretum today to witness the incredible work you did constructing the tower and bridges.WOW! Very impressed. Knew the build had to be great...

Local club works to bring back the once-prevalent American elm
I would love to help! Where would I get some of the new Strain so I could plant them?

Four Geauga school districts consider consolidating on the Kent State campus
Berkshire was smart to merge with Ledgemont because it had shrinking enrollment and excess capacity at its high school. Now that Cardinal is dragging its feet ...

Ohio Rep. John Boccieri sworn into office and hopes to look for 'middle ground' with colleagues
Welcome back to the Statehouse, John. You are a terrific representative in the truest sense always representing the people's voice in teh district you serve. ...

Copyright © 2015 WKSU Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

In Partnership With:

NPR PRI Kent State University

listen in windows media format listen in realplayer format Car Talk Hosts: Tom & Ray Magliozzi Fresh Air Host: Terry Gross A Service of Kent State University 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. NPR Senior Correspondent: Noah Adams Living on Earth Host: Steve Curwood 89.7 WKSU | NPR.Classical.Other smart stuff. A Service of Kent State University