Microplastics: In my backyard, and probably yours, too

Written by Grace Loonam

I took this picture while visiting Eld Inlet in Puget Sound. Despite the lack of visible plastic pollution, microplastics have been documented in this urban estuary.

Initially, when considering the possibility of toxic plastic pollution, images of ominous floating garbage patches in the ocean may come to mind, as it is easy to picture how this waste could disrupt and harm aquatic life. This summer, I am working on a remote group project concerning the ecotoxicology of a less visible, but no less significant threat: microplastics. Microplastics, defined as pieces of plastic less than five millimeters in length, have become a subject of increasing interest and study, and numerous investigations targeted towards mapping their concentration and distribution in the aquatic environment have been conducted. Although my fellow researchers and I were initially planning on characterizing this issue in the Potomac River ecosystem, the need to work remotely has led us to instead analyze previous research that contains microplastic concentration data of distinct regions around the United States. We also collected pollutant data in the same regions, and I specifically looked in San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, and the Mohawk River for this information.