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

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.

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).

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.

Photograph: Getty Images

Wired Magazine: A new report shows an astounding amount of microplastics, largely from car tires, are tainting the watershed (News)

Matt Simon from Wired Magazine writes:

San Francisco Bay, like Monterey Bay to its south, is a rare success story in ocean conservation. In the 1960s, three grassroots activists—Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick—launched Save the Bay, which beat back developers trying to fill in parts of the iconic body of water.

Photograph: Sebastian Kennerknecht/Alamy

The Guardian publishes on article on SFEI's microplastics study, further extending the report's reach (News)

Maanvi Singh from the US edition of the Guardian, based in the UK, writes, “It was basically everywhere we looked,” said Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a local institution that led the three-year, $1.1m research effort.

Groundbreaking SFEI and 5 Gyres microplastics study featured in multiple media outlets (News)

Concurrent with a sold-out symposium on Oct 2nd, several media outlets, including the Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times, have released the articles relating the alarming findings regarding the pervasive presence of microplastics in our surface waters. The issue of microplastics is global in nature. However, the advances in understanding the magnitude of the problem are happening regionally through partnerships with 5 Gyres, the University of Toronto Trash Team, and other notable leaders.

Image by Ruth Askevold

2019 Symposium on San Francisco Microplastics (Event)

The San Francisco Estuary Institute and the 5 Gyres Institute have completed a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive regional study of microplastic pollution of a major urban estuary and adjacent ocean environment.

New Book Chapter: Pesticides in Our Homes Wash Down the Drain (News)

A state-of-the-science review of current-use pesticides in wastewater, led by SFEI senior scientist Dr. Rebecca Sutton, indicates this pollution pathway is significant and should not be overlooked. The book chapter provides a comprehensive conceptual model of all types of pesticides that have the potential to be washed down the drain and into wastewater. Conventional wastewater treatment technologies are generally ineffective at removing pesticides, so additional monitoring and modeling studies are needed to guide efforts to prevent pesticide pollution.

SFEI Expert Assists California’s Green Chemistry Program (News)

Green chemistry is a critical tool in efforts to prevent the pollution of our environment. By selecting safer chemicals for making consumer products, we limit contamination that can harm the Bay and other aquatic ecosystems.

RMP Journal Article: Characterization of brominated, chlorinated, and phosphate flame retardants in San Francisco Bay, an urban estuary (News)

Dr. Rebecca Sutton and Jennifer Sun of SFEI, along with other colleagues from Jinan University in China, Southern Illinois University, and the California Academy of Sciences, recently published an article in the journal Science of the Total Environment on flame retardants in the Bay.

SFEI’s drone technology is helping track the trash across California.

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.

The Latest RMP Emerging Contaminant Strategic Plans (News)

The SFEI Emerging Contaminant team, led by Dr.

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.

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.

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