Sampling Microplastics with the Burley Nomad

  • 2 min read

Guest Post written by: Grace Pooley

Hi! My name is Grace and I’m a PhD candidate in environmental engineering as well as a life-long bicyclist. Before I was in academia, I worked in bicycle shops. Now though, I’m combining my love of bicycling with my academic pursuits. I study microplastics in the Anacostia Watershed in the Washington, DC area - and I do it all by bicycle thanks to Burley!

I’m studying how microplastics move through urban waterways and to do so, I need to understand where the microplastics are coming from in our river systems. The Washington, DC metropolitan area has a fantastic trail system that follows the Anacostia River on the east and the Potomac River on the west. Using these paved trail systems, I can load up my brand-new Burley Nomad trailer with all my gear and gather samples.

I call my rig The SampleByCycle!

Initially, I was using an almost 30-year old Burley trailer that my mom used to carry me around in as a kid. The trailer was still holding up, but it was designed for holding kids and not field equipment. So I reached out to the Burley team with my work, to see if they would be interested in sponsoring an environmental scientist. And lo and behold! The SampleByCycle got a major upgrade with the Burley Nomad trailer!

My samples are stainless steel filters that trap microparticles as I pump river water through. Once I’ve pumped the water through, I wrap up my samples in aluminum foil to bring them all back to my lab. Back in my lab, I take a look at them under the microscope to see what I’ve collected. I’m seeing lots of clear and blue fibers that are likely from people’s clothes as they run them through the wash cycle. These synthetic fibers (i.e. plastic) are some of the most common microplastics found in our waterways.

On average, I’ve been cycling 20-miles to collect samples along the Anacostia Watershed. I grew up riding my bike along the river here and to be back working along the river has been a dream come true. I’ve got many more miles of the Anacostia River and its tributaries to bike and sample. I’m looking forward to toting all my gear behind me in my Nomad trailer!