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.
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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."
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.