A few years ago, 杰瑞米勒, professor in Western Carolina University’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources, began looking at microplastics and its effects 在北卡罗莱纳西部的河流和小溪上.
“Through a grant from the provost’s office, we were able to set up a laboratory to 分析水样中的微塑料，”米勒说. “我们也做了前期工作 开发分析这些样品的方法. 在2019冠状病毒病大流行期间，我们做到了 working on these methods and getting our messaging ready to share.”
During the initial phase of Miller’s project, Jason Love, associate director of 正规网赌平台平台官方’s Highlands Biological Station, was also studying microplastics, but in freshwater mussels.
“After the pandemic restrictions were lifted, we teamed up on this project and together led a group of undergraduate students who were enrolled in a capstone research course through UNC-Chapel Hill to assess concentrations of these microplastics in the headwaters of the Chattooga River during a storm events,” 米勒说. “我们也和海伍德合作过 Waterways and Tuscola High School to submit a grant proposal to the 社区 Collaborative Research Program to get funding to start really looking at microplastics in our waterways.”
The project is funded by the NC Sea Grant and the NC Water Resources Research Institute.
This grant-funded project is a collaborative effort involving Miller, Love, Robert Youker, professor in 正规网赌平台平台官方’s biology department, Sue Miller from Tuscola High School 以及海伍德水道协会的克里斯汀·奥布莱恩.
“The two main aspects to the study are to first of all, try to just figure out the concentration of microplastics in the water and secondly, working with Christine and Sue and her students to pick up trash along certain sections of the stream 通道s 在韦恩斯维尔的里奇兰河流域，”米勒说.
After the trash was collected, the group separated the plastic and took it back to the labs, dried and identified the pieces and characterized the plastics by size and 类型.
Love and his UNC-Chapel Hill capstone students collected similar data on two small 在高地的Cullasaja河流域的溪流.
“Microplastics are defined as particles less than five millimeters in size, so they 都很小，”米勒说. “我们关注大数据的原因之一是 because the general assumption is that it breaks down into the little particles, which 在大多数情况下对生态的影响最大.”
During the trash pickup part of the study, Tuscola students and other volunteers picked up more than 1,500 pieces of trash along seven, 50 meter reaches of Richland Creek. This equates to about two pieces of plastic debris for every linear meter of stream 通道.
“关于 30% of what they picked up was plastic grocery bags,” 米勒说. “重大 amounts of clothing, food wrappers and Styrofoam cups were found along with some rubber 软管和轮胎.”
While the study of microplastics and plastic pollution in oceanic and coastal environments dates back to the 1970s, it was not until 2011 that data began to be collected on rivers, lakes and other freshwater systems in North America.
“Of the studies that have been done, most were on very large rivers and the downstream portions of the rivers where there's been a lot of development,” 米勒说. “我们的 study is unique in that it's looking at small headwater basins, so it is different from that perspective and these basins are important because around 70-80% of all 海洋中的塑料来自河流.”
Another alarming discovery is that a large percentage of microplastics seen in the 测试的水来自大气沉积.
“We have one site in Waynesville that is almost all forest service restricted access 人类活动很少，”米勒说. “我们检测到了一些浓度最高的微塑料 concentrations up in that area falling out of the atmosphere and its mostly fibers. 关于 90% are small fibers most likely from clothing, tires, city wear and tear, and 当然是灰尘.”
In addition to the community organizations, and the students enrolled in the capstone course at Highlands Biological Station, 米勒说 several 正规网赌平台平台官方 students have also 在过去的几年里一直参与其中.
“We recently had two 正规网赌平台平台官方 students do a poster presentation on some of our findings at the Southeastern Geological Society of America meeting last year in Reston, Virginia,” 米勒说. “Between the community, high school and 正规网赌平台平台官方 involvement, I hope we can 在接下来的几年里继续这项研究.”