Gregg Treinish and his team at Adventure Scientists bring us stories from around the world about adventuring with purpose. Georgetown University students and Adventure Scientists Carter Cortazzi, Jamie Farrell, and Lola Bushnell recently sampled the Potomac River in Washington D.C. for microplastics and here describe their experience.
By Carter Cortazzi, Jamie Farrell, and Lola Bushnell
At 5 a.m. on a very dark and cold Halloween weekend morning, our crew of intrepid explorers assembled at Georgetown University’s front gates in Washington, D.C. Freshly awoken after very few hours of sleep and buried under about five layers of clothing (no fleeces, which shed tiny plastic fibers everywhere), we were itching to get out onto the Potomac River to help join the fight against microplastic pollution by collecting samples for Adventure Scientists.
We reached our friend Noah’s skiff under the cover of darkness. Even the fish seemed to be asleep. Unfortunately, the bow lights on the boat were out, so we had a brief nap on the pontoon, but woke up again around 7 a.m. raring to go. The sunrise was incredible, and the crystal-clear, still water along with the incredible views of General’s Row, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building, made the whole boat trip feel like a scene from a film.
We had a few motivations for doing the water collection. Firstly, we wanted to measure the Blue Plains Treatment Plant’s efficacy at filtering out microplastics. Blue Plains, the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world, is regarded as the best in America. We tested upstream and downstream from where the effluent from the plant is released, so the results will give us an idea of the ability of the plant to prevent the release of microplastics (such as the microfibers shed from fleece) into aquatic environments. If the plant does successfully capture microplastics, we will investigate further to find out how, and push for this modification to be implemented at other facilities.
Overall, the water testing was an unbelievable experience. Despite a few hiccups, like the bow light issue and the boat breaking down towards the end, it was fantastic fun. We were able to experience Washington, D.C. in a way we never could have imagined, but we also contributed to the scientific community in an under-researched urban environment. Hopefully the results come back without any microfibers present, but even if they do not, we look forward to conducting further research into why this is the case and continuing the fight against the microplastic scourge.
Carter Cortazzi, Jamie Farrell, and Lola Bushnell are a team from Georgetown University working to find solutions to microplastics pollution. They became involved with Adventure Scientists after developing an interest in the problem through a class they took which urged students to look for solutions to global challenges, and were motivated to act because of their passion for the environment. Carter studies Bioethics, Jamie is pursing a degree in Environmental Biology, and Lola studies Government and Environmental Studies.
Sample Results: Jamie, Lola, and Carter collected eight samples, which contained nine pieces of microplastic: one red fiber, two blue fibers, one blue fragment, and five black fibers. See these results and over 2500 others on the Adventure Scientists worldwide map.