Prior posts have noted the great Atlantic and Pacific garbage patches. [See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch; http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/what-is-the-great-pacific-ocean-garbage-patch; &, http://news.discovery.com/earth/oceans/atlantic-garbage-patch.htm.]
Researchers sampled the Great Lakes' waters for microplastics - pieces up to 5 millimeters across [BB pellet size]. When bigger pieces of plastic trash are battered by waves and baked by the sun, they break down into tiny bits. The researchers found that these microplastics make up about 80% of total plastic samples collected in Lake Erie. Chemical analysis of the microplastic samples found varying levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAH's] and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCB's]. The PAH's and PCB's did not originate with the "mother" plastic; the microplastics readily absorbed pollutants from the surrounding environment.
The researchers note that it is uncertain if the microplastic pollutants might affect fish or birds that eat the particles; the pollutants might stay locked up in the plastic rather than leaching out into the water supply or wildlife. These uncertainties certainly suggest a fertile area for future research.
The report can be found at: http://abstracts.acs.org/chem/245nm/program/view.php?obj_id=176594&terms=.
For additional articles on this topic, see: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X11003055http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X11003055; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es201811s; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X1000336Xhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X1000336X; & http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X1100316X.