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The Great Lakes are full of microfibres — but there might be an easy solution

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A new study is taking the fight against microfibres in the Great Lakes back to the source: washing machines.

The tiny particles of plastic are shed by synthetic fabrics like nylon and fleece when they’re washed, slipping through water treatment plants and into the lakes.

To stem the flow, researchers will install about 100 special filters on washing machines in Parry Sound, Ont. to see if they reduce the amount of plastic particles that show up at the town’s water treatment plant.

“We think that because Parry Sound is small, there might be a noticeable decrease,” explained Lisa Erdle, a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Rochman Lab, who is leading the project.

Worse than the Pacific Ocean

The presence of microfibres in the lakes is well documented.

David Sweetnam, the executive director of Georgian Bay Forever, told CBC’s Ontario Morning that a study last year found microfibres in 80 per cent of the treated drinking water tested from cities around the Great Lakes.

That figures, said Sweetnam, considering that a single synthetics-heavy load of laundry can send as many as 100,000 particles into the water.

A fleece blanket is shown with the microscopic plastic particles it sheds when washed. (Lisa Erdle and Sam Athey)

“[Microfibres] are in fact cycling around now in the Great Lakes at a greater density than you find out in the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

Erdle also gathered Lake Trout and Rainbow Smelt from Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, telling CBC Toronto she found microfibres in every single one she tested.  

‘We’re being exposed to our waste’ 

Less well known, however, are the impacts of consuming microfibres on human health.

“What we do see is that it’s in fish, it’s in drinking water, and we’re being exposed to our waste,” said Erdle.

“We don’t know what that could mean for human health. I know I don’t want to be eating our trash.”

She says research is underway to gauge exactly how the tiny particles affect us, but evidence is accumulating suggesting that microplastics — of which microfibres are one of the most common examples — takes a heavy toll on ecosystems in general.

Volunteers wanted

The washing machine filters will be installed outside of the machine on the wall for the duration of the two-year study, explained Sweetnam. 

“The filter unit has a filter bag in it, like a very fine mesh… and then the water that comes out of the microparticle filter has almost 90 per cent fewer particles in it,” said Sweetnam. 

Until 2011, there were no scientific techniques to measure microfibres. Now, thanks to new techniques, Erdle is able to find and measure the particles inside fish. (Lisa Erdle)

He says his organization is looking for between 100 and 200 Parry Sound volunteers to sign up to get one put on their washing machine.

That’s part of the project, explained Erdle — to get people outside the scientific community involved in the fight, and boost the profile of microfibres as an environmental issue. 

Her hope is they can become as prominent as another aquatic issue: the microbead, once found in toothpastes and cleansers but banned by the Canadian government in 2017.

“We very easily and very quickly phased [microbeads] out,” she said.

“I think there are likewise easy solutions to limit microfibres from the environment, and it might be as simple as putting a filter on a washing machine.” 

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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