FULLERTON, Calif. - Researchers are finding more proof microplastics are infiltrating the food chain and our diets.

What You Need To Know

  • Chelsea Bowers is a graduate student and researcher at CSUF
  • Her thesis project involves dissecting 150 wild-caught Pacific sardines and analyzing the amount of microplastic
  • The sardines were caught off the coast of Southern California and so far have exhibited high levels of microplastic
  • Congressman Alan Lowenthal introduced The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which outlines some major regulations aimed largely at plastic manufacturers

Chelsea Bowers is a graduate student at California State University Fullerton. She is on the hunt for something you can’t see with the naked eye.

She started studying marine biology as an undergraduate at CSUF. She was so enamored, she stayed for graduate school, but it was scary leaving her job as a bartender. Her current mentor—who helped convince her to make the jump—also used to work in food service. They connected over this, and the fact that the industry provided good practice for her thesis research.

She’s used to standing for long periods of time and mixing drinks. Instead of cocktails, she stirs up mixtures made from the insides of sardines caught off the coast of Southern California. Then she strains out the microplastics.

“It’s wild how much plastic is actually in these fishes,” said Bowers.

With a special fluorescent dye, the tiny particles and fibers glow green, and she’s been seeing a lot of green. This says a few things: One, the water is extremely polluted. Two, if plastic is in the bellies of sardines, it’s almost certainly made its way into the stomachs of bigger predators, including humans. Over time this could have serious health consequences, which is the reason Bowers took on this enormous project dissecting 150 Pacific sardines.

“I was really interested in what is harming all the dear little creatures that I learned to love,” said Bowers.

While Bowers focuses on where the plastic ends up, Congressman Alan Lowenthal is working to address where the plastic starts. He introduced The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. It outlines some major regulations including a temporary pause on new plastic production facilities and a requirement for plastic manufacturers to finance programs that collect and process their waste.

“Unless we really have a system where someone is accountable for their products and the person to be accountable, or the people to be accountable, are the ones that manufacture and produce it, we’re not going to solve this problem,” said Lowenthal.

Even if it doesn’t pass altogether, there’s a chance parts of it could get tacked onto other bills and pass incrementally.

Whether Bowers’ work influences congress, companies, or individual consumers, she’s trying to convince everyone we can’t keep doing what we’re doing.

“Hopefully my research can really make a change cause I mean that’s everybody’s dream,” said Bowers.

Bowers hopes to finish her study next year.