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Bozeman group finds microplastic in Gallatin River

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BOZEMAN, Mont. - Research group Adventure Scientists in Bozeman is just finishing up two years' worth of research on the Gallatin River. Volunteers with the group collected water samples from 75 different points in the river for the Gallatin Microplastics Initiative.

Scientists were looking for microplastics. They are pieces of plastic that are less than five millimeters in size. That is about the size of an eraser on a pencil. They do not sound big but Katie Holsinger, project manager for the initiative, says they can be very harmful to our waterways and possibly to people.

Head scientist on the project, Abby Burrows, said this is the longest period of time anyone has studied microplastics on a watershed and this is also the most sites tested for microplastics on a single river.

Microplastics were found to be present in the Gallatin. Holsinger said finding them is not good news.

"Ultimately, that can affect feeding behaviors or reproduction. So far, the research is out that those are effects seen in fish and aquatic organisms," Holsinger said.

She tells NBC Montana microplastics eventually make their way into bigger waterways like the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Holsinger fears they do not just stay in the river.

"This is water that we're consuming when we turn on our tap. There's a likelihood, though we haven't tested it, that microplastic is entering our water system that way," she said.

More research needs to be done to find out the impacts on people.

The study also found the contaminants were found more often in March and December. Much of them were found in the form of fibers.

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