On Saturday, student researcher Marcus Bernard presented research conducted in collaboration with Joanne Smieja and David Cleary of Gonzaga and Jule Shultz of the Spokane Riverkeeper at the 16th annual Spokane Intercollegiate Research Conference.

The event was hosted by GU with members from Whitworth University.

The title of Bernard’s presentation is ‘Microplastics in Spokane River Sediments’ and his study examined the type and quantity of microplastic fragments found in sediments at two sites along the Spokane River, Peaceful Valley and Meenach Bridge.  

Using a multi-step separation process, Bernard’s team isolated small particles that appeared synthetic in nature.  Using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectroscopy, the particles were identified by comparing their infrared spectra to spectra of known materials.

Bernard found two particles identified as polystyrene (PS) at the Peaceful Valley site and multiple particles at both sites that were some type of synthetic plastic that could not be conclusively identified with the available library of spectra.  

In February, Jake Peterson’s research showed that there were microfibers in the Spokane River assumed to be plastic in composition.  Although further research is necessary, the results from Bernard’s study suggest that the microfibers from Peterson’s research might also be synthetic in nature, so as not to be confused with organic material that will eventually decompose.

Plastics are known to be hazardous to health as they hold onto dangerous pathogens; The presence of microplastics in the Spokane River could have negative effects on fish as well as humans.

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