Department or Program
Earth and Environmental Science
College of Arts and Sciences
Faculty Mentor #1
The Chesapeake Bay is a large estuary located along the east coast of the United States, with numerous wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) located throughout its basin. This area supports a vast diversity of aquatic biota and provides for numerous communities throughout the eastern United States. While effluent from WWTPs has been identified as a major contributor to microplastic pollution, little research has been conducted to examine microplastic contamination in the Chesapeake Bay watershed areas surrounding these effluent streams. Microplastics are unique in that their size (<5mm) enables ease of ingestion by aquatic organisms, causing adverse health effects such as energy depletion and digestive tract obstructions. MPs may also biomagnify throughout trophic levels, ultimately posing a threat to human health due to unintended consumption. In this study, the presence of microplastics in major rivers in the lower basin of the Chesapeake Bay, USA was examined. Water samples and sediment samples were collected in the Potomac and Rappahannock river upstream, midstream, and downstream of WWTP outfall sites via dip sampling and grab sampling, respectively. Sediment samples were treated with a wet peroxide oxidation using Fenton’s reagent to digest natural organic matter and sodium chloride to separate MPs from the sample. Surface water samples were filtered by vacuum filtration to separate suspended particles from water. Presence, type, and quantity of MPs were assessed using light microscopy. While this project is currently ongoing, we expect to find that MPs are more abundant in samples collected at WWTP outfall locations rather than locations upstream or downstream from those sites. The results of this study will provide novel information regarding the presence, distribution, and concentrations of MPs in water and sediment samples from several areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed due to inputs from WWTP effluent.