Sifting through a small pile of sand on the table, one 3rd-grade boy held a tiny blue dot between his tweezers and exclaimed proudly, “I found blue microplastic!”
Anya Rose’s 3rd-grade science classes have been studying water (and water pollution) this fall, even testing the health of the stream outside the classroom by identifying the types of macroinvertebrates present. (Certain macros indicate healthy streams, a lack of certain kinds means poor stream health.)
On Monday, the boys got a hands-on lesson in the effects of microplastics from three chemists and an environmental engineer from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), which supplies drinking water and provides wastewater and stormwater services to customers within Philadelphia.
“Kids are the future,” said PWD environmental engineer Maria Horowitz. “It’s important that they know how microplastics impact the environment and how they, personally, can change their habits and maybe even their parents’ habits.”
During the visit, the local scientists had the students do several experiments, one of which involved swirling toilet paper and wet wipes in separate bowls to examine which product breaks down and which does not. They saw images of “fatbergs,” a result of flushed wipes, clogging the sewer system. They also got their hands on sieves and tweezed plastics from the sand. The scientists taught them how they find, identify, clean, and research microplastics, as well as the challenges that come along with doing so, and how kids can do their part to help keep the waterways clean.
Later, the boys made comics about what they learned.