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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Stormwater Monitoring Season is Here!

Autumn 2022 starts our second two-year stormwater sampling campaign. This time with a twist: new citizen scientists in three more cities will be monitoring city stormwater outfalls in addition to continuing our work in Anacortes. Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds are now part of the expanded monitoring work that Friends of Skagit Beaches is leading in the North Sound. 

20221008-104425_1000226_1K-sm.jpgThis work is funded by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundations’ Southern Resident Killer Whale Conservation Program for the purpose of improving habitat, food sources, and conducting research to support recovery of the Southern Resident Orca population within our region. The grant covers the costs for volunteer coordination, recruiting, training, equipping, and managing the data captured by our volunteers.

During the summer of 2022 Friends established a partnership with the Snohomish County Beach Watcher program and the Sound Waters Stewards on Whidbey Island to connect to eager citizen science volunteers in their programs.  We recruited, trained, and equipped volunteers in Oak Harbor, Mukilteo, and Edmonds, as well as new volunteers for Anacortes. All three groups of eager volunteers are ready to get down to the beach and sometimes even in the water (photo left) to sample and take monitoring measurements. 

This volunteer effort addresses a shortcoming in our federal Clean Water Act: no required periodic monitoring of stormwater outfall pipes. Local towns would have difficulty in financially supporting the manpower and equipment costs for this activity. That’s where Friends of Skagit Beaches and our citizen science volunteers come to the rescue.


We have also partnered with the WA Department of Ecology’s regional municipal stormwater permit manager for the area stretching from Everett north to the Canadian Border.  On a monthly basis the data captured by the volunteers is supplied to the town's stormwater manager and the state stormwater discharge permit manager. Between them they engage in the detective work to find the specific source for pollution discharges that our volunteers detect. We’ve had a number of successful resolutions of pollution sources found by monitoring Anacortes outfalls in the past two years  and expect to continue with this great track record. [Photo right: volunteer measured turbidity from silt being discharged into Fidalgo Bay from a large construction project.]

20210707_153354_1022140_1K-sm.jpgIn this new campaign, Friends added E. coli bacteria detection to the stormwater monitoring activity (photo left). E Coli is a bacterium that is indicative of the presence of fecal coliform in the water and is the standard way to detect it in water source monitoring. There is a possibility that perhaps 10% of our stormwater outfall pipes also discharge E. coli bacteria in concentration levels that harms marine life. Shellfish beds are common around our shorelines and can experience closures when levels are too high. High E. coli concentrations render the shellfish harmful to humans, birds, and animals.

Our volunteers follow the Department of Ecology guidelines for analysis. If an outfall pipe is found to consistently exceed a state chemical or bacteria threshold then local and state inspectors investigate for the source, triggered by our data. This action component of the project makes this monitoring work satisfying for volunteers when they see they’ve made a difference. They see the dynamic nature of man-made pollutants that are discharged into our marine waters.

Friends assembled a dedicated group to organize, recruit, and train these volunteers. Through the summer of 2022 this group visited all four cities and hosted training sessions for the volunteers on the use of the test equipment and the micro-biology processes.

Particular thanks goes to Sue Spadoni, Wayne Huseby, Chris Wood, Betty Carteret, Sherry Johnson, and Tim Gohrke. This project expansion was a heavy lift but the group succeeded in organizing and training thirty-three volunteers among all four cities.

Want to know more or have questions?  Contact project lead, Tim Gohrke, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Clean Laundry is a Good Thing. Right?

Are We Literally Washing Micro Plastics Into the Sea?

My daughter came home from her high school Environmental Science class last year talking about plastic fibers released when we wash our fleece. She said they are part of the ocean plastics problem, showing up in seafood we eat and even in our own bodies. Sounds like the plot from a bad horror movie. I have been in denial ever since. Give up straws? Sure, but give up my beloved fleece, a mainstay of life in the Pacific Northwest? Please, no not that. So when asked if I wanted to write a blog for our volunteers, I was ready to dive in and learn more about this topic. Without going too far down the internet rabbit hole, here is what I found out.

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Ocean Wise’s Plastic Lab, a research arm of the Vancouver Aquarium, has been studying microplastics since 2014. Here are the highlights from studies they have conducted that were reported in a February 2019 Patagonia blog post.

A study of seawater from off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, found that over 70% of all plastic particles were fiber shaped. Other researchers studying the Atlantic Ocean report that fibers comprise 90% or more of the microplastic particles found. In such large numbers, and because these fibers are so small, they are a threat to marine life that mistake them for food.

In Spring 2018, Ocean Wise partnered with Patagonia, Arc’teryx, REI, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), and Metro Vancouver to begin a multi-phase research program to investigate the sources of synthetic microfiber pollution, and to identify the best science-based solutions to the problem.

wash test

The study found that textiles shed between 31,000 and 3,500,000 fibers per load during normal laundering in household washing machines. Not all textiles shed equally. For example, ‘fluffy’ textiles like fleece, as well as textiles made of spun staple yarns and textiles pre-treated with brushing are the highest-shedding types. Some fabrics shed a large amount during the very first wash, and then shed little.

 The laundry study was carried out with commercial-grade test washers that simulate a cycle in a typical home washing machine. Photo: Mathew Watkins


fabric swatch testData from the laundry study and the weathering study was used to create a reference library of spectra and a shedding catalog for the most common textiles used in outdoor apparel, a valuable resource that may help researchers to identify microscopic textile fibers and trace pollution back to its source.

 Katerina Vassilenko from Ocean Wise's Plastic Lab stands next to fabric swatches tested in the weathering experiment. Photo: Lorand Szasz

 The Ocean Wise researcher’s reported that the differences in shedding rates between textile types and over time provides opportunities for manufacturers to modify practices to reduce microfiber pollution.

A 2016 study reported in the journal Environmental Science & Pollution looked at the amount of fiber released when washing and drying new fleece blankets. They concluded “that cumulatively large quantities of microplastics are released into the environment from this source.” In addition, they reported the following results:
“Results confirm domestic washing of textiles and garments as a constant and widespread source of plastic microfiber emissions into the environment.” They found that the first washing released the most fibers by a factor of 2-3 times. After 7 washings the amount of the fiber release leveled off. “A key result of this study is the indication that fibers are emitted throughout the lifetime of the garment.”

“Release of fibers during tumble drying was approx. 3.5 times higher than during washing. However, dryers have built in filters.”

“These results show that installation and maintenance of a relatively simple and robust filter to washing machine wastewater could prevent most of the emissions.”

“Previous studies have shown that the majority of fibers released during washing are removed in wastewater treatment plants where these are used. “

The final study I am sharing results from, Rochman et al, investigated the presence of microplastics and fibers in fish and shellfish sold for human consumption in Indonesia and California.

 For the California samples, “of all species purchased, anthropogenic {human caused} debris was present in the gut content of eight (67%) of all fish species sampled, including jacksmelt, Pacific anchovy, yellowtail rockfish, striped bass, Chinook salmon, blue rockfish, Pacific sanddab and lingcod and in the Pacific oyster. Within each species, we found anthropogenic debris in 29% of jacksmelt, 30% of Pacific anchovies, 33% of yellowtail rockfish, 43% of striped bass, 25% of Chinook salmon, 20% of blue rockfish, 60% of Pacific sanddabs, 9% of lingcod and 33% of Pacific oysters.”

”All anthropogenic debris found in fish from Indonesia was composed of plastic, whereas in fish from the USA only 20% of anthropogenic debris found in fish could be confirmed as plastic. In contrast, the majority (80%) of anthropogenic debris found in fish from the USA was composed of fibers from textiles."

The authors suggest this is due to differences in waste treatment practices. In Indonesia, large of amounts of waste is dumped directly into the sea and presumably includes a large portion of plastics. In California, “there are more than 200 wastewater treatment plants discharging billions of liters of treated final effluent just off shore." ”Even though treatment results in a reduction of many contaminants, synthetic fibers from washing machines can remain in sewage effluent, and may be delivered to aquatic habitats in large concentrations via wastewater outfalls. One study found one fiber per L of wastewater effluent.”
Take Away
One component of microplastic waste in the environment are fibers from our synthetic clothing. They are not captured completely by wastewater treatment plants and they have been found in fish and shellfish. What level of threat the fibers pose to the sea life that ingests them and the humans that in turn ingests the seafood has not been fully determined. The fibers pose both a potential physical hazard in the digestive system as well as being a source of hazardous chemicals that have an affinity for attaching to the surface of plastics.What We Can DoTo reduce the amount of plastic fibers released by your washing process Oceanwise recommends that you:

The Sierra Club website has these helpful suggestions:

  • A German company has created a laundry bag you place your fleece items in that is designed to trap microfibers during washing -  the GUPPYSAFE washing bag
  • Consider items made with fabrics treated for odor control that require less washing. (I know - this raises issues about what chemicals are they being treated with.)
  • Choose natural fiber clothing instead such as wool, down, leather, cotton and other non-plastic textiles.


Teaming up to get to the bottom of microfiber pollution. Stephen Chastain.  1 Feb 2019. fleece jacket pollutes the ocean: here’s the possible fix. Catherine O'Connor. Outside. 25 May 2017.
Are we eating our fleece jackets?: microfibers are migrating into field and food. Jessica Boddy. NPR. 6 February 2017. 1:21 PM ET.
Emissions of microplastic fibers from microfiber fleece during domestic washing. U. Pirc & M. Vidmar & A. Mozer & A. Kržan. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 22 September 2016
Anthropogenic debris in seafood: plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bi- valves sold for human consumption.  Rochman CM, Tahir A, Williams SL, Baxa DV, Lam R, Miller JT, Teh FC, Werorilangi S, Teh SJ (2015). Sci Rep 5:14340. Ways to dress cozy without shedding so many microfibers: how to prevent your outerwear from polluting waterways with plastic. Fink, Bill. Sierra Jan/Feb 2019.

The Skagit Plastic Reduction and Recycling Coalition is a partnership between Friends of Skagit Beaches and Skagit County Solid Waste. We are working to educate Skagit County residents on the issues of plastic waste in the environment and involve them in taking action to avoid single-use plastics and recycle plastic right.