Microplastics in the news
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 inspired concern from the public regarding the potential impacts to human health.
The two television stories promise greater attention on this matter.
KPIX 5 Television
In a story titled "SF Bay Microplastic Pollution Surpasses Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay," KPIX writes on their website,
The San Jose Mercury News reports nearly 3.9 million pieces of plastic enter the bay every day from eight sewage treatment plants.
Those plastic pieces range from microbeads used in facial scrubs to synthetic fabric on clothes that break down when they’re washed.
By dragging nets around the bay, researchers at the San Francisco Estuary Institute uncovered 1 million pieces of plastic per square kilometer in the South Bay — nine times higher the concentration that levels in Lake Erie, the most polluted of the Great Lakes. Near Oakland and San Francisco, the team found 310,000 pieces per square kilometer — triple the levels in Lake Erie.
These microplastics have proven to attract more harmful chemicals like PCBs and mercury, which in turn adversely affect the entire food web. So the potential danger to wildlife and humans who consume fish is mounting.
Meanwhile, KNTV's Pete Suratos interviewed Rebecca Sutton in a story called "Study Finds Personal Care Products with Microbeads Polluting San Francisco Bay Waters." Suratos also solicits comment from bystanders on the street who express surprise and varying levels of familiarity with the issue. He highlights a bill currently before the Governor that would ban microbeads starting in 2020.
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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.
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.
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.
Preliminary measurements of microplastic pollution in San Francisco Bay are featured in a recent San Jose Mercury News article on AB 888, a bill to ban microbeads in personal care products. San Francisco Estuary Institute is conducting a study on microplastics on behalf of the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay, in partnership with San Francisco Baykeeper. Findings to date suggest Bay water has similar levels of contamination as the Great Lakes, despite substantial dilution from the Pacific Ocean.