Microplastics found in York County waterways, according to a new study

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Bryan Miller of Lower Windsor Township fishes from the shore at Long Level along the Susquehanna River Wednesday, March 3, 2021. He says he usually catches pan fish, catfish and smallmouth bass. Over the course of a year, 53 rivers, lakes streams across Pennsylvania were tested for four types of microplastic, including fibers, fragments, film and microbeads. Bill Kalina photo

Microplastics are present in at least two bodies of water in York County, according to a recent statewide survey by PennEnvironment.

Codorus Creek and Lake Marburg tested positive for fiber and fragment microplastic types, which can have adverse environmental and health effects for humans and animals, researchers said.

"The findings in York County support what we found in the rest of the state — that microplastics are everywhere," said Stephanie Wein, a spokesperson for PennEnvironment. "The more that we can reduce our plastic use at the local, state and federal levels, the fewer microplastics that we'll have in York."

Microplastics have been shown to block the digestive tracts of wildlife, causing starvation or difficulty processing food in aquatic species, which can then spread to land animals who prey on the fish and other aquatic creatures.  

Over the course of a year, 53 rivers, lakes and streams across Pennsylvania were tested for four types of microplastic: fibers, fragments, film and microbeads.

At least one type of microplastic was present in each water sample, according to the study.

Approximately 86.8% of sites contained fragments, a type of plastic typically broken down from harder plastics, such as bottles or plastic feedstock. 

Seagulls flock along the shore at Long Level along the Susquehanna River Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Over the course of a year, 53 rivers, lakes streams across Pennsylvania were tested for four types of microplastic,Êincluding fibers, fragments, film and microbeads. Bill Kalina photo

Additionally, 94.3% of sites tested positive for microfilm, primarily from plastic bags, and only 1.9% of sites contained microbeads, which usually come from cosmetic products.

Although microplastics in York County were present in both the Codorus Creek and Lake Marburg, Wein said nailing down the sources of the pollution is a complicated task.

"Water pollution doesn't respect a town or county line," Wein said. "It travels across those lines, and so we're probably creating some of that pollution from York County but also from neighbors as well."

Microplastics are most often found near landfills or other places where trash is dumped. 

An outdoor space, such as Codorus State Park, where Lake Marburg is located, could end up with plastic litter that gets broken down and carried away into water systems, Wein said. 

Deanna Schall, the park manager for Codorus State Park, said volunteers often coordinate litter cleanup days to keep the amount of trash to a minimum. 

Additionally, the park has fishing line recycling locations and a concessions agreement that prohibits plastic foam, plastic lids and straws, Schall said.

"As the report shows, microplastics are an issue everywhere," Schall said. "I feel like we're doing what we can."

"You never know what treasures you're going to find," said Deana Albright, of York Township, while negotiating the the Codorus Creek from her kayak to reach debris during the 20th Annual Codorus Creek Cleanup begins at Bantz Park in York City, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Ted Evgeniadis, the executive director of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, also has been working with volunteers to reduce plastic along the Susquehanna.

Though he wasn't surprised by PennEnvironment's findings, he said, he found it "pretty alarming" that 100% of all water samples had at least one type of microplastic present.

"That speaks volumes as far as plastic that's entering our waterways, whether it's plastic bottles or bags breaking down," Evgeniadis said.

High volumes of microplastic have consequences for the Susquehanna River's fish population too, Evgeniadis said.

A study conducted in 2018 by Susquehanna University found that 95% of the 67 smallmouth bass sampled contained microplastics in their bellies — an 87% boost from the previous year, according to the report

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis offers the use of a magnet to reach debris during the 20th Annual Codorus Creek Cleanup begins at Bantz Park in York City, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In response, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is launching a microplastics program charting the quantity of microplastics in waterways and the types of plastics present.

With hopes of starting in spring, Evgeniadis said the monthly program will mainly pinpoint the lower watershed and tributaries that feed into the river.

"I would assume that many bodies of water have microplastics," he said. "It's a hot-button issue."

Evgeniadis recommended that individuals who want to help reduce the amount of plastic that lands in waterways start by keeping in mind the types of items they consume and purchase.

"It comes down to what we purchase, what we're wearing and what we're bathing in," he said.

Clothing items made with polyester and some toothpastes containing microbeads can contribute to the amount of microplastics.

Individuals should also be mindful of food packaging and other single-use plastics they are purchasing, Evgeniadis said.

"Go out to your local waterway and pick up plastic," Evgeniadis said. "Those are ways that people can help out."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.