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

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.

PBDEs in San Francisco Bay: A Summary Report (Project)

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a group of flame retardant additives used in thermoplastics, polyurethane foam, and textiles. These diphenyl ethers possess one to ten bromine atoms; although 209 congeners are possible, only some of these are manufactured or result as degradation products. The three commercial mixtures of PBDEs, each named for the bromination level of its dominant components, are "PentaBDE," "OctaBDE," and "DecaBDE."

A Broad Scan of Bay Contaminants: Non-targeted Analysis of Bay Wildlife (Project)

A cutting edge analysis identifies low levels of five unmonitored compounds in wildlife of San Francisco Bay. Bay mussel and harbor seal samples were tested for previously unmonitored contaminants using a non-targeted analysis that screens mainly for long-lived, fat-soluble, chlorine and bromine-rich chemicals. The samples contained five contaminants not previously identified in Bay wildlife, and for which toxicity is largely unknown. Most of the Bay chemical contamination was from high priority contaminants that the RMP already monitors, or closely related compounds.

Science-Policy Briefing: Ocean and Freshwater Plastic Pollution: Impacts and Opportunities (Event)

Join the California Latino Legislative Caucus and Monterey Bay Aquarium for a science-policy briefing at the State Capitol Building.

Estuary News features RMP study on microplastic pollution (News)

December's issue of Estuary News features an article, "Unhealthy Fiber in Bay Diet," that highlights the surprising result of a preliminary study of Bay microplastic pollution, which suggested that San Francisco Bay has higher levels of microplastic than other major urban waterbodies in the US for which data are available. Using nets and sieves designed to capture very small particles, scientists with the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay filtered samples of Bay surface water and wastewater treatment plant effluent.

New Microplastic Fact Sheet puts Bay study findings in context (News)

The same week that the U.S. House of Representatives passes a bill to ban microbeads in cosmetic products, the Bay's Regional Monitoring Program releases a fact sheet that describes our recent study on microbeads and other microplastic particles in Bay water and treated wastewater.

Plastic microbeads are in the news, and SFEI is providing the science (News)

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."

Microplastics study led by Rebecca Sutton is featured in a news story (News)

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.

KPIX and KNTV Television interview Rebecca Sutton about microplastic contamination in the Bay (News)

With separate news crews, KPIX and KNTV followed up on the San Jose Mercury and Contra Costa Times stories by Paul Rogers regarding the surprising findings revealed by a new study. Led by SFEI's Rebecca Sutton, the study on microplastics uncovers the widespread extent and high level of microplastic contamination in the S.F. Bay. Microbeads -- the small synthetic granules found in cosmetics, soaps, and even toothpaste -- form the primary focus of the study. The study's early results have prompted concern from the public regarding the potential impacts to human health and the cumulative impacts to our S.F. Bay ecosystem.

SFEI science informs state policy on microplastic pollution (News)

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.

RMP Annual Meeting Summarized on Twitter (Event)

The RMP Annual Meeting was held in conjunction this year with the State of the Estuary Conference. Collectively, the events brought together over 800 people interested in the condition of our estuary.

Below is featured a collection of highlights of the conference as recorded in social media in the form of videos, images, quotations, and other observations. We hope you enjoy perusing this unique conversation of over 89 users, 500 tweets, and a world-wide audience of over 400,000 people.

SFEI featured in 5 major newspaper articles over two weeks (News)

Articles featuring the Pulse of the Bay, the State of the Estuary Report, and SFEI's work on microplastics saturate the news media since Sept 9, 2015.

Recent weeks have demonstrated the tremendous value that SFEI brings not only to the domain of environmental science but also to resource management and the public landscape. The deluge of articles covers a wide breadth of subjects, each with great urgency and relevance to issues of public importance.

Bay RMP Water Monitoring Cruise: August-September 2015 (Event)

On August 26, 2015, the RMP will begin its 23rd year of water quality sampling in the San Francisco Bay. Samples will be collected from across the whole Bay: from Lower South Bay to the Delta to just outside the Golden Gate Bridge. This year the RMP is partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey to collect the samples from their research vessel RV Turning Tide. 

Bay Currents Talk: New Bay Pollutants - Meeting the Challenge (Event)

San Francisco Bay is far healthier now than a few decades ago, thanks to the federal Clean Water Act and impressive state and local efforts. But early signs point to potential new sources of pollution: Stain resistant or flame retardant chemicals that leach from consumer goods, medicines and pesticides flowing from urban centers, and toxic algae fed by excess nutrients.

A Broad Scan of Bay Contaminants: Cutting-Edge Analysis Identifies Low Levels of Five Unmonitored Compounds in Wildlife of San Francisco Bay (News)

San Francisco Bay wildlife were tested for previously unmonitored contaminants using a non-targeted analysis that screens mainly for long-lived, fat-soluble, chlorine and bromine-rich chemicals. Bay mussel and harbor seal samples contained five contaminants not previously identified in Bay wildlife, and for which toxicity is largely unknown. Most of the Bay chemical contamination was from high priority contaminants that the RMP already monitors, or closely related compounds. Future non-targeted analysis could include techniques that examine water-soluble compounds.

Latest Estuary News takes a look “Beyond the Blubber” (News)

Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto’s article “Beyond the Blubber,” based on interviews with SFEI Senior Scientist Rebecca Sutton and NIST Investigator John Kucklick, provides the scientists’ perspective on a just-completed RMP study that searched Bay biota for unknown contaminants.

San Francisco Bay Data on Microplastic Pollution Featured in San Jose Mercury News (News)

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.

Ten Years After Toxic Chemical Phase-Out, Strong Signs of Recovery for San Francisco Bay (News)

The attached fact sheet details the widespread and rapid declines in flame retardant pollution in many San Francisco Bay species, according to a new study released by the San Francisco Estuary Institute. See the article mentioning the Institute and SFEI's own Rebecca Sutton in the San Francisco Chronicle.