In honor of World Water Day, and in service to its goal of improving water literacy, the Northland College Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation hosted a lecture by leading researcher Dr. Sherri Mason.
The study of plastic pollution started in the world’s oceans—most famously focused on what has been called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ Despite a United Nations report suggesting that 80 percent of this oceanic debris came from land, very little research has focused upon freshwater systems even though they act as conduits from land to sea.
The Burke Center talk “The Perils of Plastic” provided an overview of plastic’s proliferation in our society and its emergence as one of the most prominent environmental pollutants. “It was shocking to learn that pollution occurs in every step of the process of making plastic until it’s disposed of in a landfill,” said Elsie Dickover ’25. “While plastic may seem like a temporary blip in our normal lives, it is very much a permanent problem.”
Eighty people attended the event, which was free and open to the public.
Dr. Mason is an associate research professor and director of sustainability at Penn State Behrend. Her research group was among the first to study plastic pollution within freshwater systems. Focusing initially on the Great Lakes, their recent studies have shed light on the pervasiveness of microplastics within tap water, beer, sea salt, and bottled water. Dr. Mason’s work has drawn international attention to the threats posed by microplastics and led to national measures banning microbeads.
The United Nations’ UN-Water collective recognizes World Water Day on March 22 each year. World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis.