A Quantitative Analysis of the Proliferation of Microplastics in Williamston’s Waterways

(1) Williamston High School, Williamston, MI

One of the most concerning aspects of human progress is the spread of pollution. Microplastic pollution is only a small part of this issue, but a relevant one nevertheless. Plastic debris can disrupt marine ecosystems, spread contaminants, and take years to naturally degrade. Our aim for this study was to establish an understanding of the scope of Williamston, Michigan’s microplastics problem, as well as to attempt to find the source of these plastics. We sampled four sites from the Red Cedar River in the Williamston School District. Sites were chosen due to their proximity in relation to the boundary of the school district, with samples collected both upstream and downstream of the wastewater treatment plant. In analyzing our samples, we used an aspirator vacuum to filter the water we collected, left the filters in an incubator to dry for 48 hours, and then counted microplastics under a microscope by systematically scanning through gridded filter paper. We found a general trend of increasing concentrations of microplastics from upstream to downstream, but we were not able to locate the source of Williamston’s microplastics pollution. Originally, we hypothesized that the Williamston Wastewater Treatment Plant was the primary contributor to Williamston’s microplastics pollution, but we could not find statistically sufficient evidence to confirm this theory. Further research is needed to determine whether the Wastewater Treatment Plant or another source is responsible for the microplastics pollution.

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microplastic pollution wastewater treatment