Harmful plastics found in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers, other waterways

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PITTSBURGH — Researchers recently found the existence of microplastics in all of Pittsburgh’s three rivers, as well as several smaller bodies of water within our region.

The study, conducted by PennEnvironment, tested 53 waterways across the state. Every single one had microplastics.

“It’s quite a large amount of plastic pollution,” said Faran Savitz, conservation associate for the advocacy group.

The detrimental fragments make their way into our water, our food, and the air we breathe. They are more prevalent than one may think, even existing as synthetic fibers in some of our clothing. That means, even doing a load of laundry can send microplastics into our waterways.

“Studies estimate we consume about a credit card’s worth of microplastic pollution every week, just from our daily lives,” Savitz said.

He added that microplastics have been linked to a number of health issues, including cancers. They may potentially impact our reproductive and endocrine systems, too.

Getting rid of these plastics isn’t as simple as recycling, according to Savitz.

He said the best solution is to eliminate single-use plastic products, particularly those that can be replicated with alternative materials.

PennEnvironment is working to push legislation at both the state and federal level that would ban certain products.

We reached out to local leaders to see if anything is being done.

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Pittsburgh Council Member Erika Strassburger said that council is working on legislation to reduce single-use plastic bags at point of sale.

“We are taking our time ensuring the future legislation both accomplishes its goal of cutting down on single use plastic bags, while also providing incentives to restaurants and retailers to help with the transition, so the bill is not quite ready for introduction,” she said.

The city has developed a “Roadmap to Zero Waste.” https://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/redtail/images/543_Pittsburgh-Road-Map-to-Zero-Waste-Final.pdf

Experts hope that change comes sooner rather than later.

“The longer we take to act, the worse it’s going to get,” Savitz said. “This is a problem for all of us.”