Paper No. 59-1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
CHARACTERIZING MICROPLASTIC POLLUTION IN NEW YORK STATE WATERWAYS
We are investigating the extent to which microplastic particles <1 mm in diameter, sourced primarily from personal care products such as facial scrubs and whitening toothpastes, are reaching major waterways of eastern New York State. In 2013, samples of planktonic material were collected at 16 sites in the near-shore channels of the lower Mohawk River between Utica and Waterford, NY, and the upper Hudson River between Selkirk and Troy, NY. To date, we have found only a few of the spherical microbeads that are commonly associated with personal care products. Instead, much of the plastic material we have recovered is in the form of plastic fragments. When we reexamined the microplastic particles in nine personal care products (seven scrubs and two toothpastes), we found that only three of the products contained spherical microbeads, while all nine contained smaller irregularly-shaped translucent plastic particles that mimic the appearance of angular quartz grains. Most of the particles float at the surface in water, but some remain suspended within the water column. Our examination of the source materials suggested that the distribution of microplastic particles in the fluvial environment is more complex than might be expected, and has informed the process of characterizing the microplastics in the 2013 samples. Visual identification of likely plastic particles is followed by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis to identify specific plastic compounds in samples. The recognition of microplastic pollution in waterways and increasing public awareness of the issue have motivated the introduction of legislation to ban microplastic-bearing products at the federal, state, and county levels, with an ever-increasing number of bills signed into law. In addition, a number of major manufacturers have already phased out microplastics in their products, or have pledged to phase them out soon (typically by 2017). Personal care products containing microplastics are still available in stores, however, and thus the potential for continued microplastic pollution through the wastewater stream still remains.