We are very excited to introduce you to the newest member of MIPPR’s team. Win Cowger, also known as the trashiest researcher, is a PhD candidate and NSF graduate research fellow at the University of California, Riverside. He studies the sources, transport, and fate of plastic pollution in the environment. He has served on the Moore Institute’s Board of Directors since our inception. Win will be graduating in September and will be joining the Moore Institute team as a Postdoctoral Researcher.
Win was raised in Benicia, California where he graduated from high school. He attended community college at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa where he received an Associates’s Degree and then received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science at Iowa State University. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science at the University of California, Riverside, and plans to graduate in September. Win’s dissertation focuses on understanding the transport of plastic pollution through rivers. Win is versed in field and lab research and has a strong background in data science and software development. Win is passionate about open data and open science and tweets often about both on his Twitter @Win_OpenData. In Win’s free time he climbs big walls in Yosemite and enjoys long hikes in the wilderness.
In previous newsletters I have written about Moore Institute’s participation in an interlaboratory effort, sponsored by the State of California, to develop a standard method for analyzing and reporting the quantity and type of plastics in our drinking (tap) water. As part of the study, each participating laboratory was given an identical set of samples with known quantities of microplastics in each sample type (matrix). There were 4 matrices, clean water, dirty water, sediment and fish tissue. We have now completed the extraction of microplastics from each of these matrices. The data has been reported from the clean water samples and a final “reveal”session has been held by the organizers at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to see how the labs did finding the known amount. Microplastics in clean water was the focus of the California Water Resources Control Board, as it was the matrix most relevant to their mandate to determine the amount and dangers of microplastics in our drinking water and take appropriate regulatory actions.
It was quite a surprise to see how all the labs did, including the labs of large corporations. While we have been asked not to share actual results until our findings are published in the peer reviewed journal Chemosphere, I can safely say that there is more work to be done before we can arrive at standard methods for monitoring microplastics In drinking water, especially at the most invasive micron size classes. The goal of the Moore Institute is to be the first ever accredited laboratory for microplastic analysis in different matrices, but especially, drinking water.
One of the benefits of our participation in such a large study is connecting with important players in our field of research. The head of the CA Water Board’s microplastic monitoring initiative requested that I send plastic samples from diverse areas for a study of aging in environmental plastics. We were able to send 4 samples from widely different sources that would have different age profiles and other characteristics: 1)Kamilo Beach, Hawaii (known as “trash beach”), 2) Hi-Zex buoy island. You can google the Island’s name to see a Youtube video of me standing on the island describing the microplastics found there. I believe this is the first “trash island” ever discovered in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), 3) Trawl samples of plastic and plankton from our 2014 voyage to the GPGP, and 4) Beach sand samples collected by Algalita volunteers from the Long Beach Peninsula (these would have the most recently deposited plastics). The scientist in charge of this ageing study is Dr. Roxana Suehring, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biology at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has agreed to keep us updated on what they discover.
Citizen Science Water Monitoring
We are continuing to work on our Citizen Science water testing kits. A geography major at UCLA, Spencer Zinke, has volunteered with us after I spoke to his class. He sketched out a conceptual model of what we are thinking about. Win Cowger has suggested that we make the device out of clear lucite so that the user can see how the filtration process proceeds and we can set a limit at a certain number of cc’s of water per minute in order to stop filtering at a point where the process becomes too slow. The device could then be shipped back dry with the filter in place for analysis at our laboratory. We love these collaborative Research and Development projects. We will keep you updated on our progress and welcome suggestions!
Charles Moore has been working on and talking about plastic pollution for a quarter of a century. Not a week goes by without a request for his input on some aspect of the problem. His broad experience in fieldwork, laboratory procedures, sampling design and potential solutions is sought by those who have more recently begun work on this “pollutant of emerging concern.”
Earlier this year, Charles was asked by Dr. Anthony Andrady, editor of the first comprehensive volume in our field done for Wiley Science: Plastics and the Environment (2003), to do the Foreword for Wiley Science latest book Plastics and the Ocean. Each chapter is written by a different expert and covers everything from Microplastics in Seafood Species and Nanoplastics and Human Health to Legal Aspects of Marine Pollution. The Foreword traces the history of plastic pollution starting with the prophetic voyage of the Barge Mobro 4000 in 1987, when 3000 tons of New York City trash found no takers all the way to Belize and back and ended up buried and burned in the city from whence it came. It concludes with a look at the current focus on endocrine disruptors in plastic, plastic’s effects on human health and the economic drivers that make reduction of plastic waste “uneconomic.”
On January 22, Charles renewed his collaboration with the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Marine Science Professor Karla McDermid by speaking to her Marine Debris in the Pacific class. In 2010 he facilitated the first endowed chair of plastic marine debris at the University, and Dr. Hank Carson used that appointment to publish ground breaking research on plastics in beach sand, finding that mixed plastics changed beach sand temperature and could thereby influence the sex of sea turtle hatchlings. Charles then wrapped up the class with a presentation on April 28, which featured a discussion of new issues in marine and terrestrial plastic pollution. For an outline of the issues, please read his open access paper in Acta Oceanologica Sinica, “Invasion of the Biosphere by Synthetic Polymers, what our current knowledge may mean for our future.”
On Jan 26, he presented to Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey’s class on the Anthropocene at UCLA. She is the author of Allegories of the Anthropocene, which focuses on Plantation Culture and the way artists in the Caribbean work with plastic marine debris. The Professor, Charles and the co-author of his book, Plastic Ocean, Cassandra Phillips had given a presentation to an audience in Pasadena together last year. Dr. DeLoughrey teaches students new words and concepts that are emerging to conceptualize the “Age of Plastic.” For instance plastic can be considered a “hyper object:” a substance whose meaning is “never fully grasped,” similar to climate change. Professor Deloughrey invited the Charles again on April 21, to speak to her Honors Collegium students, many of whom are majoring in environmental sciences and discuss the work of Professor Anand Pandian, the author of Race, Nature and the Politics of Difference and more recently, Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon. Little did Professor DeLoughrey know that Anand had been a volunteer crew in 2017 aboard ORV Alguita, when Charles conducted the most extensive sampling ever undertaken of the South Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast of Chile near Rapa Nui (Easter Island). After Charles learned about the plan for the class, he got in touch with Anand, who agreed to read a piece he had been working on about the voyage. His visit to the class turned out to be a major highlight and was a treat for students and teacher alike.
Earth Day Festivities 2021
Earth Day activities were more limited than in years past due to lingering COVID issues, and the media did not have the coverage we are used to seeing surrounding the single day that should be every day. Nevertheless, the Moore Institute’s Research Director, Charles Moore was very busy.
On April 16, he presented a program for “Craft in America,” detailing the issues surrounding plastic pollution from outer space to the depths of the ocean. The audience was mostly artists from across the United States and the feedback was very positive. He began his talk by showing slides of debris in earth orbit, and warning of a possible “Kessler effect.” NASA scientist D.J. Kessler in 1978 predicted that the density of space junk in low earth orbit could turn a single collision into a cascade that would make launching satellites and carrying out space activities difficult if not impossible. Since that time the amount of space junk, including lots of plastic and paint chips has increased and is now on the order of 1 trillion objects, 21,000 of which are being tracked, not only so space missions can avoid collisions, but also so they will not be targeted by shield defense systems. Let’s not spend millions shooting down space ship parts and bags of frozen sewage.
There are hundreds, probably thousands of times more plastic particles in the ocean than in space, and they are much more difficult to track, as their movement is not stable or easily predictable, and it is impossible for ships to know where large net and rope masses, derelict vessels, and hard plastic buoys are in the open ocean. Captain Moore (Charles is also a certified boat captain and owns his own research vessel) found it necessary to reinforce his center hull and build a cage around his propellers on his research vessel, Alguita because of impacts and entanglements while doing research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Charles makes Earth Day every day in three ways. First, he communicates the issues surrounding the worlds plastic pollution problems, as identified through the Moore Institute, to all who will listen. Second, he supports the non-profit he founded in 1994, Long Beach Organic that turns vacant lots into organic community gardens. Not only do they offer plots to local gardeners for their own food production, they also dedicate garden space to growing for food distribution programs at California State University, Long Beach, and have just passed the 1-ton mark in donated organic produce. Third, for 47 years he has been growing organic produce at his home farm, which is inspected by the county agricultural commissioner and has certified him as a licensed producer of organic fruits and vegetables for sale. Each Sunday from 10-4pm he sells what his family doesn’t eat to passers-by and regular customers. He also accepts food scraps from neighbors to add to his large compost pile, making for a truly circular local economy. Become an urban farmer at your place and make Earth Day, every day!