My project aims to understand the impacts of plastic pollution in harsh environments typical of Northern climates. We will focus our attention on the invisible fraction of plastic particles – nanoplastics – that may pose a greater risk to environmental and human health because of their small size.
The wide extent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has received a great deal of attention. Yet, the almost ubiquitous presence of micro-plastics (< 0.01 mm) and nano-plastics (< 0.0001 mm) pollution (MNP) in our terrestrial environment has been little studied. The effects of MNP on human health remain unknown, though studies show that MNP is now found in tap water, food, and the air we breathe. This is of concern because nano-plastic particles are small enough to enter the human body at the cellular level. Nathalie Tufenkji’s study will focus on MNP pollution in Canadian terrestrial and freshwater systems. Her study will ask the question as to whether Canadians are exposed to increased quantities of these contaminants because of Canada’s harsh northern climate, which may accelerate the breakdown of plastics into micro- and nanoparticles. Further, she’ll seek to discover the composition of MNP pollutants and how they might affect the health of Canadians.