Sep 23, 2015

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.

KNTV Television

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.

Joe Vazquez
Associated Staff: 
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Clean Water Program
Bay Regional Monitoring Program
Contaminants of Emerging Concern