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Articles featuring the Pulse of the Bay, the State of the Estuary Report, and SFEI's work on microplastics saturate the news media since Sept 9, 2015.
Recent weeks have demonstrated the tremendous value that SFEI brings not only to the domain of environmental science but also to resource management and the public landscape. The deluge of articles covers a wide breadth of subjects, each with great urgency and relevance to issues of public importance.
Rebecca Sutton, senior scientist at SFEI, describes the hazards presented by microplastics in the Bay's waters. "Plastic pollution: Billions of pieces of tiny plastic litter found in San Francisco Bay," a news article by Paul Rogers reports on findings in a recently published study for which Rebecca Sutton serves as lead author. What the researchers discovered, the high degree of plastic contamination, surprised them.
With separate news crews, KPIX and KNTV followed up on the San Jose Mercury and Contra Costa Times stories by Paul Rogers regarding the surprising findings revealed by a new study. Led by SFEI's Rebecca Sutton, the study on microplastics uncovers the widespread extent and high level of microplastic contamination in the S.F. Bay. Microbeads -- the small synthetic granules found in cosmetics, soaps, and even toothpaste -- form the primary focus of the study. The study's early results have prompted concern from the public regarding the potential impacts to human health and the cumulative impacts to our S.F. Bay ecosystem.
In the wake of the passage of the microbead ban, KQED released a story about it's potential hazards. As a science resource, Dr. Rebecca Sutton lent her expertise: "'Municipal wastewater systems were designed for our [bodily] waste and food waste, but they’re not engineered to handle tiny bits of plastics,' said Rebecca Sutton of the San Francisco Estuary institute. Upgrading waste treatment facilities to handle microbead waste would cost billions, and it wouldn’t necessarily be effective."
Last week, the Governor signed AB 888, a bill that bans microplastic beads in personal care products. Companies have until 2020 to phase out the use of these "microbeads." California now has strongest state law in the nation on this issue.
SFEI science played a key role in informing policymakers about microbeads and microplastic pollution. Media stories on a Regional Monitoring Program study of microplastics in San Francisco Bay water and treated wastewater broadcast the latest findings to a wide audience. The study indicated that our Bay had higher levels of microplastic pollution than the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Clearly identifiable microbeads derived from personal care products were detected at all nine sites examined in San Francisco Bay.
In a story called "Synthetic Clothes May Be Polluting San Francisco Bay," KGO-TV's Dan Ashley interviews SFEI's Rebecca Sutton, UC Davis professor Susan Williams, and Jim Erin from the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility about the proliferation of synthetic fibers in the Bay. Such fibers may come from fleece jackets and other clothing produced from artifical fabrics.
The RMP has conducted initial studies of microplastic pollution in San Francisco Bay. Findings from a 2015 screening-level RMP study of microplastic pollution in our Bay show widespread contamination at levels greater than other U.S. water bodies with high levels of urban development, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Wildlife consume microplastic particles; ingestion can lead to physical harm, and can expose aquatic organisms to pollutants like PCBs that the plastics have absorbed from the surrounding environment.
The same week that the U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill to ban microbeads in cosmetic products, the Bay's Regional Monitoring Program releases a fact sheet that describes our recent study on microbeads and other microplastic particles in Bay water and treated wastewater.
December's issue of Estuary News features an article, "Unhealthy Fiber in Bay Diet," that highlights the surprising result of a preliminary study of Bay microplastic pollution, which suggested that San Francisco Bay has higher levels of microplastic than other major urban waterbodies in the US for which data are available. Using nets and sieves designed to capture very small particles, scientists with the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay filtered samples of Bay surface water and wastewater treatment plant effluent.