Date of Submission

Spring 2020

Academic Program

Environmental and Urban Studies

Project Advisor 1

Eli Dueker

Project Advisor 2

Emily White

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Global plastic production is >300 million tons a year and rising. Plastic has exceeded our ability to dispose of it properly and much of it escapes into aquatic environments (Andrady et al. 2015). When a plastic bag pollutes a river it will become weathered, splintering into thousands of microplastic particles, but remain plastic. Microplastics (MP), smaller than 5mm, have been well documented in marine environments and have been shown to cause a variety of deleterious effects to marine life. That said, microplastics are understudied in freshwater environments where we get our drinking water from. Of particular concern are microplastic fibers, which shed from our clothing and make up the majority of microplastics found in freshwater. My study documented fibers in the Saw Kill above and below Bard’s waste treatment plant. Wastewater plants have been documented as a source for microfiber pollution (Carr et al. 2016). The goal of my study was to quantify the number of fibers in the Saw Kill using the FlowCam. The FlowCam takes snapshots of every particle in a water sample and uses image recognition software to provide detailed particle analysis. It is an ideal instrument to study microplastic, but has never been used to quantify microfibers in environmental samples. There was an average of 115 fibers/L found in the Saw Kill tributary using the FlowCam, much higher than the 0.98 fibers/L found previously in the Hudson River. Fibers ranged from 20-200µm in length, their smaller size could explain the high abundance. The Flowcam was also used to assess hydrogen peroxide digestion, which removes organic material from the sample. All but one sample had a >50% reduction in particles post digestion. Digestion was effective, but not able to remove all non-plastic fibers. Therefore in my count, I can not conclude that all fibers were plastic. Future studies should improve the digestion protocol and try using fluorescent dyes to differentiate plastic fibers with the Flowcam’s trigger mode. Microplastic pollution will likely become exponentially worse in the future, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. A citizen science approach to monitor the Saw Kill would be a powerful tool to track plastic pollution and could help spur solutions to clean it up.

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On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

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