Environmental History 
of the Spokane River

Microplastics in Spokane

Point Sourcing the Microplastics in the Spokane River:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Point Source as “an identifiable confined source (such as a smokestack or wastewater treatment plant) from which a pollutant is discharged or emitted.” Former Gonzaga Alum Jacob Peterson began his research on microplastics in the Spokane River as a senior project. Peterson was unaware of the devastating data his findings would show on the quality of the Spokane River. “Research is increasingly showing that microplastics are not confined to the oceans.” (Francovich, E. 2019) As an active kayaker, Peterson experienced anxiety after understanding the massive amount of plastic pollution that was present in the river. “Microplastics were found in every sample Peterson collected. During one high-water event in April, Peterson found 47 microplastics per liter. The lowest sample recorded was one microplastic a liter in early March. On average, Peterson found 12.1 microplastics per liter.”(Francovich, E. 2019) Peterson concluded that some of the largest amounts of invisible microfibers and plastics were present near and around the Waste Water Treatment Facility. Peterson’s research began a discussion among the people of Spokane and the surrounding communities that forced many individuals to critically examine the impacts of plastics in the river. With such a strong presence of microplastics emerging in continuing testing, levels of microplastics and fibers will only increase unless something is done to combat the monstrous issue of plastic pollution.

Microplastics inside Whitefish in Spokane River

Wastewater Microplastic in the Spokane River

It is difficult to understand where these microplastics are specifically emerging from, but the biggest take away is that there are increased cases of emerging plastic pollution being found in freshwater. After Peterson’s report, very little began to take up the study and continue where he left off. Many people often associate the issue of microplastics with the oceans and sea wildlife, but Peterson’s study is proof that it is becoming a pressing issue in freshwater as well. In a study done by Senior Isaac Caruso, he found that not only is the water quality becoming increasingly polluted, but the ecological systems are suffering the most. As an avid fisher, Caruso decided to take his passion into the lab and research the effects that these plastics had on river ecosystems, specifically the Spokane River. The senior from Lewis and Clark High School began researching the effects that microplastics were having on Whitefish in the Spokane River. His findings concluded that, “22 (66%) [Whitefish] contained microplastics, a percentage larger than that of previous freshwater studies. A recently developed method of microplastic isolation with a much higher extraction yield was utilized in this study, suggesting that this higher percentage of contaminated fish may more accurately represent the level of pollution in river systems. (Caruso, I. 2017) The various species that reside among the Spokane River have been drastically affected by this increase in microplastics. Both Caruso and Peterson set a foundation of research for the people of Spokane and other cities that rely heavily on their freshwater systems to use and evaluate the impacts of plastic pollution.

To learn how to lower your personal plastic pollution and to share with friends, check out our pamphlet in the Brochure Tab about How to Reduce Plastic Waste

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