Citizens’ Help Sought To Determine Idaho Rivers' Role As Gateway For Microplastics

Aug 6, 2015

Friendship Bridge on the Boise River in Boise.
Credit Boise State Public Radio

If you could help reduce water pollution right in your laundry room, would you? As you unpack your fleece jacket when autumn rolls in, there’s new information that might make you reconsider how - and how often - you wash it.

A study done by Dr. Mark Anthony Browne at USC Santa Barbara calculated that every time a fleece jacket is washed, up to 1,900 tiny pieces of plastic are shed. These plastic bits then travel through your washing machine’s filter, the sewage treatment plant’s filter, and right into the water. In-depth research on microplastics is being conducted by the group Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation based in Bozeman.

ASC’s Emily Wolfe says microplastics come from cosmetics, plastic bottles, and fabrics, such as fleece.

“Microplastics attract toxins including DDT and BPA and other pesticides,” she says, “which then are known to adhere to the plastic particles.”

ASC has been studying microplastics in the oceans for more than two years. But in order to get to sea, the toxins travel by way of our streams and rivers.

“Those toxins have then been shown to biomagnify as they move up the food chain, accumulating in birds, fish, and other marine mammals, and potentially humans.”

Wolfe’s group has launched a citizen science effort to collect data on freshwater microplastics, and people in the Boise area are invited to take part. Wolfe says it’s the first large-scale attempt to understand just how widespread and severe the problem may be.

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Correction: The research on the 1,900 microfibers was originally credited to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. It has since been changed to show the data was collected by USC Santa Barbara's Dr. Mark Anthony Browne.

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