Rivers Without Plastic
We began researching the presence and prevalence of microplastics in the Truckee River in 2019. Microplastics are a new and scary type of pollution with many unknowns - how do they affect humans and the environment, how do they enter our waterways, what types of plastics are most prevalent, how do they break down... Our effort is the first and only to look at microplastics in the Truckee. The Desert Research Institute, who we have worked with and who have tested Lake Tahoe, is leading the way regionally to develop methods of analysis.
Don't know much about microplastic pollution? Neither did we a couple years back so check out these links:
A Primer from the Story of Stuff People with a video under 3 minutes
Microplastics in Drinking Water
With hydrologist Brian Fitzgerald we sampled three locations twice - in the spring and fall (high and low flow times). After nearly two years of trying to find a lab who could perform the analysis we were finally able to have our samples analyzed by a research team at the University of Rochester in NY state. They have developed a special filtration technique to help isolate the microplastics in a given sample. Ours were the first river samples they analyzed (they had only done tap water previously) which provided them with a real world challenge that ultimately helped them refine their process.
Note: they found high levels of microplastics in the tap water from their region
The upshot is that there's a fair amount of microplastics in the Truckee river. However, there is no significant difference in quantity along the river suggesting that the source is likely airborne. Yes, that means we're breathing and drinking microplastics. Once we sort through the data and make it shareable we'll post it here.
We intend to do a third round of sampling this summer which we'll send off to Rochester again. Our hope is that this research can guide our community locally in identifying sources of microplastic pollution so we can work to reduce them. Secondly, we hope our efforts further the national understanding of the prevalence and impact of this pollution on people and ecosystems.
Big thanks to all who funded this work on our crowdfunding page, to Patagonia for providing grant funding, and to Sami Romanick for linking us with Rochester.