Church Lake Microplastic Biofilms


Plastics are in every crevice imaginable, and their prevalence in the environment is due to their strong resistance to degradation. Inland lakes are susceptible to plastic pollution by highway runoff from road surfaces, brake pads, car tires, and road paint. These plastics eventually enter freshwater environments and fragment into microplastics (<5mm). There is still limited knowledge on bacterial communities’ dynamics found on microplastics in urban water environments. This experiment will look at common polymer types found in stormwater drains from urban areas, including polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polystyrene (PS). Microplastics will be incubated in flow-through cylinders that allow colonization and easy deployment and retrieval. This project will first study the role of the plastisphere on nutrient uptake by evaluating biofilms’ biomass development and species composition on different plastic polymers. Secondly, this study will investigate whether plastic substrates exert a strong enough selection to drive species sorting. Results will show how microplastics from highway runoff serve as a substrate for biofilm formation and affect nutrient dynamics in an urban lake affected by high salinity. This study will strengthen our understanding of microplastics in urban water environments.

A PVC frame with rows of individual screen-lined cannisters that will allow ambient lake water to mix with the microplastics contained therein.

Microplastic sampling array.

Project Summary

In 2022-2023, AWRI is collecting water and microplastic samples from Church Lake and its East Beltline Avenue (Michigan highway M-44) drainage inflow. AWRI graduate student Paris Velasquez will be conducting additional laboratory analyses, including algae identification and genetic analysis of microbes in microplastic biofilm for her thesis research, “Effects of Microplastic Biofilms on an Anthropogenically Impacted Urban Lake".

A person standing in a creek and measuring the volume of water discharge.

Graduate student Paris Velasquez monitoring stream flow.

Funding for this project was provided by the Allen and Helen Hunting Research and Innovation Fund, the Grand Valley State University Presidential Research Grant, and the Steinman Environmental Education Fund at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.


Paris Velasquez, Graduate Researcher: [email protected]
Al Steinman, Thesis Advisor: [email protected]

Page last modified April 7, 2023