Microplastics Research with Dr. Sarah Cadieux

A woman in a pink shirt collects samples from a stream using a large, elongated net as three Sanctuary youth fellows look on.

Throughout summer 2023, Water Justice Lab fellows had the opportunity to work with RPI Earth and Environmental Sciences professor Dr. Sarah Cadieux on her emerging research project on microplastics contamination in local surface water and drinking water. Sarah is doing research in our local drinking watershed, and using NATURE Lab as the site for processing samples and recording data.

On June 28, the Water Justice Lab team spent the morning taking surface water samples at three locations. Visiting artist-researchers, including Ipi Fernandez, Monica Duncan, Senem Pirler, and Allie Wist, joined the team as well. The first sampling location was Sunkauissia Creek where it crosses under Route 7 at Hall Road. Sunkauissia Creek is a tributary to Troy’s drinking water supply at Tomhannock Reservoir, which we visited during our Week 1 tour. Fellows and mentors worked with Sarah and her team to take stream measurements including depth, width, and water velocity, then used two different methods to collect samples for microplastics analysis back at the lab. Sarah is comparing the results of using a large seining net versus collecting samples in mason jars. She hopes to determine how much water volume is necessary to use mason jars for sampling, so she can work with community science volunteers to collect samples in the future.

Once we learned the collecting process, we visited two more sites in our drinking watershed: Otter Creek (the site of last years’ macroinvertebrate sampling), and the Tomhannock reservoir itself.

On subsequent days back at the lab, Sarah demonstrated her process for filtering and “digesting” the samples to remove all organic material so that only small plastic fragments remain. Once the samples were processed, they were ready to be viewed through microscopes and data about the different types and quantities of plastic recorded. We’re all looking forward to learning more about Sarah’s results, and how we might respond to the presence of microplastics in our surface water and drinking water.

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