Rebecca Sutton's picture

Rebecca  Sutton, PhD

Senior Scientist
Clean Water Program
Bay Regional Monitoring Program
510-746-7388

 Follow Rebecca on Twitter @beckysuttonphd

Dr. Rebecca Sutton joined SFEI-ASC in 2013 as a Senior Scientist for the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco (Bay RMP). Dr. Sutton leads the RMP's Emerging Contaminants Workgroup and a team of scientists investigating contaminants of emerging concern and microplastic in the San Francisco Bay and other regions of California. She also manages SFEI-ASC’s Green Chemistry focus area, providing information to inform policies designed to prevent pollution through reduced use of toxic chemicals. Dr. Sutton has been appointed to California’s Green Ribbon Science Panel to aid in the implementation of the state’s Safer Consumer Products Regulations.

Dr. Sutton received her B.S. in Environmental Resource Science from the University of California, Davis and her Ph.D. in Environmental Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation explored molecular-scale interactions affecting contaminant fate and transport as well as soil carbon storage to mitigate climate change. Prior to joining SFEI-ASC, Dr. Sutton was a senior scientist with research and advocacy non-profit Environmental Working Group, where she conducted research on chemicals of concern in air, water, soil, consumer goods, and people.

Related Projects, News, and Events

Contaminant Data Download and Display (CD3) (Project)

Contaminant Data Display and Download Tool or CD3  is an innovative visualization tool for accessing water quality data for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and northern montane regions. It is the primary tool for accessing and downloading the San Francisco Bay Regional Monitoring Program’s (RMP) long-term dataset and other project data stored in SFEI's Regional Data Center (RDC).

RMP Update (Project)

The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay is an innovative collaboration of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the regulated discharger community, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute. It provides water quality regulators with the information they need to manage the Bay effectively. The Program issues a report each year, the Pulse of the Bay in odd years and the RMP Update in even years.

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) (Project)

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a broad class of fluorine-rich specialty chemicals. More than 4,700 PFAS are used in consumer, commercial and industrial applications, including food packaging materials, waterproof textiles, stain-resistant carpets and furniture, fire-suppression foams, processing aids for the production of fluoropolymers like Teflon, mist suppressants in metal-plating, and hydraulic aviation fluids. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been shown to be highly toxic and have been phased out of production in the US.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern Strategy (Project)

More than 100,000 chemicals have been registered or approved for commercial use in the US. For many of these chemicals, major information gaps limit evaluations of their potential risks, and environmental monitoring of these chemicals has not been required by regulatory agencies. Nevertheless, researchers and government agencies have begun to collect occurrence, fate, and toxicity data for a number of these chemicals.

Photo courtesy of Shelly Moore, SCCWRP

California Trash Monitoring Methods Project (Project)

The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), in close partnership with the State Water Board, has recognized the importance of standard methods for trash monitoring and has funded this project. The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) and San Francisco Bay Estuary Institute (SFEI) have partnered up to test multiple trash monitoring methods with a goal of developing a library of methods with known levels of precision, accuracy, and cross-comparability of results, and linking these methods to specific management questions.

Monitoring San Francisco Bay for microplastics - photo by Plus M Productions

Microplastic Pollution in San Francisco Bay and Adjacent Marine Sanctuaries (Project)

Plastic pollution is gaining global recognition as a threat to the resilience and productivity of ocean ecosystems. However, we are only just beginning to understand the scope and impacts of microplastic particles (less than 5 mm) on coastal and ocean resources, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. A preliminary study of nine water sites in San Francisco Bay, published in 2016, showed greater levels of microplastics than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay.

Microplastic Pollution (Project)

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.

These scientists want you to rethink how you use plastics: SFEI and 5 Gyres issue a new video (News)

The short (3-min) video summarizes the goals of the SF Bay Microplastics Project, which aims to better understanding the distribution of microplastic in San Francisco Bay and adjacent National Marine Sanctuaries, the pathways by which these contaminants enter the Bay, and possible means of controlling their release. 5 Gyres and San Francisco Estuary Institute are collaboratively carrying out the project.

Image from KQED

Hunting for Plastic in California’s Protected Ocean Waters (News)

Rebecca Sutton, Meg Sedlak, and Diana Lin of SFEI, in partnership with Carolynn Box of 5 Gyres, conducted ocean water sampling associated with an ambitious project. The project is focused on determining the characteristics and fate of microplastics in the Bay and adjacent ocean waters. KQED reporter Lindsey Hoshaw published a story covering the team's activities along the California coast. After determinng that the Bay has greater than expected microplastic pollution, the science team, as reported by Hoshaw's story, is conducting further ground-breaking research.

RMP Completes Major Revision of its Strategy to Monitor Emerging Contaminants (News)

Global leaders in the study of emerging contaminants, the stakeholders that make up the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) believe that preventing a pollution problem is safer and more cost-effective than cleaning one up. For this reason, the RMP focuses on monitoring contaminants of emerging concern, or CECs.

SFEI scientists process microplastic samples collected from San Francisco Bay.

Local News: Scientists launch major study of microplastics pollution in San Francisco Bay (News)

SFEI and The 5 Gyres Institute have launched an ambitious two-year research project to monitor San Francisco Bay for pollution in the form of tiny particles of plastic pollution, reports ABC7 News. These microplastic particles are eaten by local fish, according to previous studies, which can expose them to harmful contaminants. 

RMP Study in the News: “Dog and cat flea treatments suspected of polluting San Francisco Bay” (News)

As a result of summary information presented in the latest Pulse of the Bay (see below), the San Jose Mercury News published an article based on a RMP study of pesticide movement through Bay Area wastewater treatment plants.  Fipronil is an insecticide that is of moderate concern for the Bay because levels in sediment are in the range of toxicity thresholds for freshw

Photograph courtesy CA Dept. of Pesticide Regulation

Local coverage of RMP findings on flea control pesticide fipronil (News)

A report from ABC7's Dan Ashley on May 17, 2017 highlighted key findings from a recent RMP study on the pesticide fipronil. The study identified spot-on flea control products as likely to be an important source of this contaminant to the Bay.

Coastal Cleanup Day Information in East Bay Express (News)

Just in time for California Coastal Cleanup Day, an insert in today’s East Bay Express provides readers with ways to help protect San Francisco Bay. The East Bay Municipal Utility District invites Bay residents to volunteer for creek and Bay cleanups on Saturday, and take everyday steps for the health of the environment, like fixing leaky pipes and flushing only the 3 P’s – not wipes or medications.

RMP Annual Meeting 2016 (Event)

The RMP Annual Meeting is held every year in the early fall. The meeting is an opportunity for RMP stakeholders to discuss current RMP projects and highlight interesting new research. 

New Microplastic Pollution Study to Launch in San Francisco Bay and Adjacent Ocean Waters (News)

A two-year investigation on microplastic and nanoplastic pollution in San Francisco Bay and the surrounding ocean will launch this month, led by two research centers, the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute.

RMP Keys to Success Highlighted in Two Manuscripts (News)

RMP Keys to Success Highlighted in Two Manuscripts

Photograph courtesy CA Dept. of Pesticide Regulation

The Dirt on Flea Control: New RMP Study featured in Estuary News (News)

It’s hard to go to the big box pet store and not stumble over the flea control displays. Most pet owners have dabbed or squirted Frontline or Advantage between their cat’s shoulder bones or onto the back of their dog’s neck, but who would guess this same chemical would make its way off our pet’s fur, down the drain, through wastewater treatment, and into the Bay? For more on this new RMP study, read the full story by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto in Estuary News.

Dr. Rebecca Sutton interviewed on KGO-TV about the potential impact of synthetic clothing on San Francisco Bay (News)

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.