Fake worms pose pollution risk in Lake Mattawa in Orange

  • Lake Mattawa resident Frank Citino displays some of the 250 or so rubber worms he has pulled from the bottom of the lake this year. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • Frank Citino displays one of the bloated rubber worms he has pulled from Lake Mattawa in Orange. The worms, popular for fishing, eventually degrade to the point they disperse polluting microplastics into the environment. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • Frank Citino points out the part of Lake Mattawa from which he has pulled some 250 rubber worms, which eventually break down into microplastics, polluting the lake. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For the Recorder
Published: 8/13/2020 4:05:15 PM
Modified: 8/13/2020 4:05:05 PM

ORANGE — Looking out at Lake Mattawa from the lakefront property of Frank Citino, you would be excused for thinking the popular local body of water was relatively pristine. But at a meeting of the Lake Mattawa Association last year, Citino said Jeff Anderson — who also owns a home on the lake — displayed some large rubber worms.

“Jeff said, ‘This is what happens when they sit around on the bottom for a long time,’” Citino recalled. ‘“Eventually, they just burst, spewing microplastics into the lake.’ And there are a lot of them down there.”

Following the association meeting, Citino began collecting the worms.

“So, this year I just started swimming around with a pair of goggles on to see what I could find, and eventually I started diving for them. I’d get outside for 45 minutes and come back with maybe 25 or 30. Before long I had over 250 of them.

“My own opinion is that every lake — at least in New England — that has decent shore access and a halfway decent boat launch is going to be littered with these things,” he said.

Citino explained that the worm lures, commonly used by those who fish the waters of Mattawa and other lakes throughout the region, have hooks embedded in them.

“The hooks are made of metal and after a while they just rust away. So, generally when I find them, they don’t have any hooks in them. Every once in a while I’ll find one with a hook in it.”

The fact that Citino can collect as many as he has in the relatively short time he’s been gleaning the fake worms from the waters — solely near his property — leads to the possibility that many thousands are littering the bottom of the 112-acre lake.

“It’s been proven that microplastics from our environment are now in us from our food source,” he said. “So, my only concern is trying to reduce the amount of microplastics in our environment. I didn’t know about this until last year, and that’s why I started pulling them out of the water. I’m sure that most fishermen are aware of this. I don’t think anyone’s doing anything malicious, but there are a lot of them out there.”

According to the website of the National Geographic Society: “Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny plastic particles. Officially, they are defined as plastics less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) in diameter — smaller in diameter than the standard pearl used in jewelry. The problem with microplastics is that, like plastic items of any size, they do not readily break down into harmless molecules. Plastics can take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose — and in the meantime, wreak havoc on the environment.”

Citino said his aim is simply to raise awareness about the issue.

“I’m a fisherman,” he said. “I’ve stopped using rubber worms and switched to other bait. I’ve recently learned that there are supposedly biodegradable rubber worms. I haven’t tried them. I’ve seen them in the stores and I was talking to a guy last week who said that’s what he uses.

“So, I’m not on a quest to clean every lake in New England,” he said. “I just want to raise people’s awareness. Don’t use them. They’re just going to wind up in the food we’re trying to catch.”

Lake Mattawa Association coming events

The Lake Mattawa Association is encouraging association members to enjoy a socially distanced picnic at their own camp on Sunday. A “Parade of the Boats” around the shore will begin at 5 p.m. and be followed by an anchored gathering mid-lake for snacks. At dusk, participants will take part in a lighted boat parade.

Members of the association are also encouraged to gather at the boat ramp on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 8 a.m. for the Lake Mattawa Association Cleanup Day. Participants are urged to wear a mask and bring gloves. Trash bags will be made available.

For more information, check the association’s Facebook page.

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