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Microplastics are commonly defined as any plastic fragment less than 5 mm in length. They originate from numerous sources: they’re created from the degradation of larger plastics into smaller pieces, from the dispersal of synthetic fibers from certain types of fabrics, and from the manufacturing of microbeads in beauty products. [1] In recent years, microplastics have become an increasingly pervasive problem. They have been found in over 90% of tap and bottled water samples, [2] and humans are estimated to consume up to 50,000 microplastics every year. [3]

Despite such a widespread presence of microplastics in the environment, the health impacts of these particles have yet to be determined, although current research indicates that they are likely to be deleterious. Microplastics have been found to absorb hazardous substances like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and more. They also may accumulate in narrow passages in the human body, resulting in blockages, inflammation, and other adverse health effects.

With the risks that microplastics pose to the environment and to human health, California lawmakers have taken several preliminary steps toward solving the problem. After banning the production of microbeads, California passed Senate Bill 1422 in 2018, requiring the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt a definition of microplastics by July 2020 and develop a standard methodology for the detection of microplastics in drinking water by July 2021. [3]

In November 2021, the State Water Board published The Microplastics in Drinking Water Policy Handbook, which details the progress that has been made after the passing of Senate Bill 1422. The document defines “nanoplastics” as any particle between 1 nm and 100 µm and “large microplastics” as any particle between 100 µm and 2.5 cm. The Board establishes two primary methods for the detection of microplastics: Raman spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy. Both these techniques use similar approaches to identify plastics. In Raman spectroscopy, high-intensity light is used to excite the molecules within individual particles. The Raman scattered light that is returned can be used to analyze the particle’s chemical composition. In infrared spectroscopy, a machine measures the vibration of molecules through infrared light.

While both these methods are effective at accurately identifying microplastics, spectroscopy still has some distinct disadvantages. The procedure uses highly complex and expensive devices that require trained personnel to operate, making it inapplicable to many scenarios where microplastic detection is needed. Additionally, it is often infeasible to count nanoplastics individually through this approach. As a result, the California Water Board is considering “surrogate methods” such as flow cytometry, turbidity, and total suspended solids to more cheaply and efficiently detect microplastics while maintaining a high degree of accuracy.

Notably, Senate Bill 1422 does not discuss the filtration of microplastics from drinking water. Such topics need to be addressed in future pieces of legislation. Furthermore, efforts to prevent the continued production and spread of microplastics into the environment also need to be prioritized. Though California has taken important some initial steps, more change must happen if the state wants to target the spread of microplastics before it becomes a more prominent issue.

Hi! My name is Justin Sather and I'm 12 years old.

I'm on a mission to spread the message that our planet needs our help.

The last few years, I have been learning all about our world's plastic pollution crisis. And I've learned more than I wanted to know. I learned there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 if we don’t change our ways. I learned a million single-use plastic bottles are bought per minute, and water bottles take over 400 years to decompose. I also learned that every minute a garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our waterways. This has led to the creation of 5 Great Garbage Patches in the middle of our oceans. And then I learned all about Boyan Slat, and he gave me hope! Boyan Slat wanted to make a change, and after a lot of hard work and determination, he founded The Ocean Clean-Up Organization. Boyan successfully used his imagination and engineering skills to create a boat called “The Interceptor”. It is an automated, solar-powered trash collector boat that traps plastic pieces and trash floating in rivers and creeks before they reach the ocean and disposes the trash outside and away from the water. There are now 11 Interceptor Boats helping the dirtiest rivers around the world. They are located worldwide in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, and more. This is extremely important because it has been estimated that almost 80% of the plastic carried into the ocean comes from 1,000 rivers around the world. Through Team Seas, I have been able to fundraise to help The Interceptor Boats worldwide capture and clean up plastic and trash. So far, I’ve raised enough money to keep 700 pounds of plastic and trash from entering our oceans. Now, right near my home, I helped The Interceptor Boat 007 get approved for the Ballona Creek in Los Angeles. I started Justin’s Frog Project at the Ballona Wetlands when I was in kindergarten and spent many years restoring the wetlands next to the creek so this has been a dream come true. Some of the residents were against having to look at the boat from their homes or were concerned it might make too much noise or have odors from the trash. I had my classmates write letters to Los Angeles Supervisor Holly Mitchell and I had a meeting with her team explaining how important it is for her to approve the interceptor and create change for the future.

Interceptor 007 was approved and launched in October, 2022. I was invited to the Ribbon Ceremony and got to meet Boyan Slat and Holly Mitchell in person. It was a huge honor to attend. I also am very grateful for the Friends of Ballona Wetland and Ballona Creek Renaissance for all of their support with my work. In just 3 short months, the Interceptor 007 has already stopped 85,000 pounds of trash from reaching the Pacific Ocean. -Justin Sather

What exactly is groundwater? Like the name suggests, groundwater is found in cracks of soil, sand and rock in the Earth, comprising almost all of the available freshwater [1]. It’s also one of human’s biggest water supplies: farmers rely on groundwater to irrigate their crops and pools rely on groundwater to fill their depths. This water we consume—that we bathe in, drink, and use for countless other purposes—is being used up in large amounts daily.

Two Tuesdays ago (March 20) was World Water Day, and its theme was “Groundwater, making the invisible visible.” All this water beneath the Earth’s surface is crucial beyond belief, yet its sources are being depleted at record rates. Take California for example, its recent drought causing California’s groundwater to be used up more quickly [2]. In California’s case, this used up groundwater may be really hard to recover naturally. According to UC Riverside research, 85% of Californians rely on groundwater as a water source, specifically private wells [3]. However due to the high volume of people using it, exacerbated by the drought, it’s changing up the ground’s density composition, resulting in land surface sinking [4].

It’s estimated that groundwater takes three years to recover without human activity hindering it. With constant movement of humans and constant dependency on its resources, researchers doubt it will ever recover. The government passed a law in efforts to preserve it: the SGMA (or Sustainable Groundwater Management Act). SGMA essentially states that sustainability agencies can control all future plans to preserve groundwater. SGMA also states that water is a shared asset and rules can be created to limit its use [5].

Water is what makes Earth so different from the rest of the planets in our solar system—it’s why life exists and humans are able to roam and learn like we do.

Water is important, but how exactly can we preserve what we have? A few ways we can proactively do our part can be regularly testing our water quality, using only the water you need (cut down on shower time, wash full loads of laundry instead of multiple small batches, etc.), and remaining aware about the state of our Earth since changes can affect the quality of groundwater, and just staying informed in general [6].

It’s a sacred natural resource, one that we should do our best to preserve. As nature works its forces, water, and clean groundwater, is what truly distinguishes planet Earth from the solar system. We should work together to save the water we have.

Sources Referenced

Cover Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

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