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Readers Want to Know: How does cigarette litter impact Lake Superior?

Credit: Department of Health and Human Services, and Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department

Credit: Department of Health and Human Services, and Austin/Travis County Health & Human Services Department

Answer: Sorry, but we don't know the answer to this one, since the impact of cigarettes on Lake Superior has not been studied. BUT ... an article first appearing in The Underwater Naturalist, a bulletin of the American Littoral Society (available at www.longwood.edu/cleanva/ciglitterarticle.htm), reports the chemicals leached from discarded cigarette butts present a biohazard to waterfleas at concentrations greater than 0.125 butts per liter, or about one butt per two gallons of water.

During the Lake Superior Beach Sweep last September, 300 volunteers picked up 3800 cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are by far the most common piece of litter removed from beaches around the planet according to The Ocean Conservancy's documentation of the international coastal cleanup each year. The filters in these butts are composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can take from 10 to 15 years to break down.

The Great Lakes Aquarium reports that, in 2012, beach sweepers also picked up 500 plastic bags, 22 tires, a recliner, hip waders, and a microwave. Be proactive. Before litter becomes part of the Lake Superior equation, pick it up and put it in the trash. Think about joining Sea Grant and other Beach Sweep sponsors in 2013. For more information, send an email to the Great Lakes Aquarium at beachsweep@glaquarium.org or call 218-740-2003.


By Sea Grant Staff
January 2013

Return to January 2013 Seiche



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