Rebecca Sutton's picture

Rebecca  Sutton, PhD

Managing Senior Scientist
Clean Water Program
Bay Regional Monitoring Program
Contaminants of Emerging Concern

 Follow Rebecca on Twitter @beckysuttonphd

Dr. Rebecca Sutton is a Senior Scientist for the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP). She leads the RMP's Emerging Contaminants Workgroup and a team of scientists investigating contaminants of emerging concern in the San Francisco Bay and other regions of California. She studies a broad range of contaminants, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), flame retardants, rubber and plastic additives, ethoxylated and quaternary ammonium surfactants, current-use pesticides, and microplastics, among others. Dr. Sutton has served on California’s Green Ribbon Science Panel (2014-2022) to aid the state’s Safer Consumer Products Program, as well as the 2022 panel to review the drinking water Contaminant Candidate List (CCL 5) for the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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, Dr. Sutton was a senior scientist with research and advocacy non-profit Environmental Working Group, where she conducted investigations on chemicals of concern in air, water, soil, consumer goods, and people.

Related Projects, News, and Events

Big problem, small size: Improving methods in microplastics research (News)

When it comes to plastic pollution, that candy wrapper half buried in the dirt is only the tip of the iceberg. Plastic bags, cigarette butts, and bottle caps are not just an eyesore, but over time they break down in the environment, creating small pieces of debris known as microplastics. Microplastics can include anything from synthetic fibers of clothing to industrial pellets from the plastic manufacturing process. Microplastics are now ubiquitous in our environment--found in our air, drinking water, sediment, and in the San Francisco Bay and global ocean.     

Bay RMP Non-Targeted Analysis Factsheet (News)

This study used non-targeted analysis, a powerful tool that provides a broad, open-ended view of thousands of synthetic and naturally-derived chemicals simultaneously. We identified hundreds of contaminants, and the results have opened our eyes to urban stormwater runoff as an important pathway for emerging contaminants to enter the Bay.

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.

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. 

PFAS Stays in San Francisco Bay (News)

SFEI senior scientist, Dr. Rebecca Sutton, published a new study in the journal Chemosphere showing that it will take almost 50 years for PFOA concentrations in water to stabilize in San Francisco Bay. This pales in comparison to the trajectory of PFOS concentrations that will not stabilize in sediment and fish for 500 years. PFOS and PFOA are harmful to humans, causing liver damage, endocrine disruption, fertility decrease, and cancer.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Latest RMP Emerging Contaminant Strategic Plans (News)

The SFEI Emerging Contaminant team, led by Dr.

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.

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. 

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.

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

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.