Blogger of the Day-Jimmy Truong, MSc Candidate/ Tough Tree Planter!

Jul 17 2013

Montreal-Toronto Expedition

Freshwater Research and Scientific Communications Course

Crew size: 14

Jimmy Truong, MSc Candidate, collecting a water sample using a van Doorn water sampling device.

Jimmy Truong, MSc Candidate, collecting a water sample using a van Doorn water sampling device.Blogger of the Day:Jimmy Truong- MSc Candidate

Blogger of the Day: Jimmy Truong

MSc candidate and intrepid Tree Planter
Extroardinaire

Jimmy Truong  joined us on board last Saturday, only 4 days after he returned from 2 months tree planting in Northeastern Ontario.

This fall, Jimmy will be returning to the University of Toronto to begin his Masters of Science program, under the advisement of fellow Sea Dragon crew member, Paul Helm.

Read today’s blog to find out how Jimmy will use his experience aboard Sea Dragon to supplement his future research on Great Lakes contaminants.

The Montreal – Toronto expedition is unique in that it has 3 renowned fresh water scientists onboard who have enriched the experience for us.

Professors Sam Mason and Bill Edwards lead a class on the history of the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Professors Sam Mason and Bill Edwards lead a class on the history of the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Today we learned about the “industrial heritage” of the Great Lakes – Saint Lawrence Waterway, which is a PC way of saying that these waters were once, and still are the waste yard for human progress and excess. Dr. Bill Edwards gave us a brief history  today about the formation of the Great Lakes, touching on their misuse and maltreatment after the creation of the canals and locks and the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

These waterways were crucial in the division of British and American territories during the war of 1812, and important for the economic development of this region. The region was once full of shipbuilding, fishing and manufacturing industries that left their traces in the contaminant profiles of the lakes.

What stuck with me from this talk was what we learned about the topography of the lakes. All the water from the higher Great Lakes drain in to the St. Lawrence and into the Atlantic Ocean. This was impressionable because Lake Ontario, having the lowest elevation, receives drainage from all the other lakes through Niagara Falls. This means that in addition to all the runoff that goes into Lake Ontario, there are additional contaminants from the drainage of the other lakes, which makes Lake Ontario one the dirtiest of the Great Lakes. This was troubling to learn for me because I’ve lived along the shore of Lake Ontario my whole life and have swam in its waters since I was a child.

Depth Profile of the Great Lakes Ecosystem, showing the drainage towards Lake Ontario. Image courtesy of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources Website.

Depth Profile of the Great Lakes Ecosystem, showing the drainage towards Lake Ontario. Image courtesy of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources Website.

This brief lecture brought me back to why I hopped on board the Sea Dragon. I came here to learn more about Dr. Mason’s sampling techniques for micro plastics, but also to collect my own samples to do preliminary tests on Organophosphate Flame Retardants (OPFRs) in the Great Lakes.

Organophosphates have been a major concern in the past when they were used as pesticides and leeched into our waterways. They are currently being used as a replacement for recently banned and controlled Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) flame retardants.

Flame retardant sources inside the home. Image taken from sourcewatch.org.Flame retardant sources inside the home. Image taken from sourcewatch.org.
Sea Dragon begins to transit the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Sea Dragon begins to transit the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The history of the Great Lakes shows the incredible ingenuity of man with the construction of dams and locks. It also demonstrates the lack for foresight of the unforeseen consequences to progress. Opening up the Great Lakes to the ocean allowed in invasive species such as the zebra mussel that have caused irreversible damage to the Great Lake ecosystem.

We see this lack of foresight into the future today in the microplastics that Dr. Mason has found as well as with the unraveling story of the OPFRs making their way into our water.

This journey is about discovery but also one of hope. In order to fix our mistakes we must discover them and find ways to mitigate them. I hope that the work we are doing here on the Sea Dragon will serve as an example that more studies need to be done on chemical products and their replacements, before they are deployed.

As the mounting evidence that microplastics from face exfoliants and replacement flame retardants are being washed into our waters, we need to realize that industry and government need to follow the precautionary principle to make sure that we keep our waters clean. I hope that our scientific work and the advocacy and educational programs that Pangaea Explorations does can educate the public about the consequences of our petrochemical dependent lifestyles and that we should demand more from chemical industries and more government regulation.

By: Jimmy Truong,

MSc Candidate,

University of Toronto