Nov 17, 2015

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 Ervin 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.

Fish in the Bay are ingesting these fibers and then larger mammals, including humans, are eating the fish. This raises concerns about potential impacts on both ecological and human health. However, preventing the infiltration of these fibers into the Bay is not an easy matter to manage. The source fabrics are ubiquitous and their small size poses serious challenges. Dan Ashley writes,

Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., with the San Francisco Estuary Institute showed us how small the fibers can be; some are only visible with a microscope. Sutton's research found significant levels of plastic fibers in San Francisco Bay water. She says most of them are from polyester, acrylic and other common manmade fabrics. The fabrics shed the fibers as they are laundered, then the fibers are washed into the sewage system. Sutton also tested treated wastewater coming out of sewage plants around the bay and determined the plants are not able to filter the fibers out.

The story reached a broad audience and is yet another in a line of ground-breaking small studies that have exposed potential hazards lurking beneath the surface of our Bay waters. In September, Dr Sutton led a study on microplastics that contributed meaningfully to the public debate about and eventual ban of microbeads in personal care products. 

Dan Ashley
Associated Staff: 
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Clean Water Program
Contaminants of Emerging Concern