In Collaboration With


My mission was simple

Beginning April 2017, I would sample as many recreational rivers, streams, and lakes in West Virginia’s public lands as possible before the project ended in May that same year.

With help from two volunteers, John Lichter and Tomi Bergstrom, and assistance from several others, our army of citizen scientists gathered 26 one-liter samples from 11 rivers, seven streams, and two lakes.


With the assistance of many friends along the way, Dylan Jones collected 14 samples, which contained eight microplastics: seven blue fibers and one piece of transparent film.

John Lichter collected 10 samples, which contained two microplastics: one blue filament and one transparent filament.

Tomi Bergstrom collected two samples which contained one piece of microplastic: a red filament.

To date, around 48% of freshwater samples analyzed from the global project contained microplastics. Just eight of the 26 West Virginia Samples, or 31 percent, tested positive—notably lower than the overall average. While further work is needed before conclusions can be drawn, preliminary findings provide the possibility that West Virginia’s remote waterways and main arteries are comparatively low in microplastic pollution.


What are microplastics?

Microplastics are plastic particles smaller than five millimeters in size that pose a significant environmental risk when they enter waterways. Pollutants, including pesticides and manufacturing chemicals like DDT and BPA, can adhere to microplastic particles and become concentrated in aquatic life, accumulating up the food chain in a process called biomagnification. Microplastics have been shown to affect animal behaviors, and can interact with other pollutants to affect cell function in fish. These toxic particles are also able to move from the digestive tract of organisms into the bloodstream.

Microplastics come in two flavors: Primary microplastics are manufactured for direct use, such as threads in nylon clothing or beads in cosmetic products; secondary microplastics are derived from the breakdown of larger plastic debris over time. A major source of microplastics comes from your own home: they’re laundered from nylon clothing and pass through washing machine filters, and they can wash down the sink drain with many cosmetics and toothpastes.

All photos in this slideshow courtesy Adventure Scientists


The gem of the Cheat River watershed

Shavers Fork of the Cheat River is remote river that originates high on Cheat Mountain and flows 89 miles to its confluence with the Cheat River, one of West Virginia’s premier recreational rivers and the site of successful stream restoration by Friends of the Cheat. Shavers is considered one of the Five Forks of Cheat, meeting with the Dry, Black, Laurel, and Glady forks near the tiny town of Parsons.

Shavers is a true gem—its upper reaches constitute the highest river in the eastern U.S. An astounding 97-percent of the river’s basin is forested, and two-thirds of it flows through public lands, including the magnificent Monongahela National Forest.


Click on a photo to expand the image and view the full gallery with extended captions.


Tomi Bergstrom

Tomi is a Watershed Basin and Project WET Coordinator in West Virginia. She’s an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for educating, traveling, rock climbing, backpacking, and watching sunsets off mountain tops with her dog Lota.


Why is this project important to you?

I’m a sucker for a good study and was genuinely interested if microplastics were in our waterways. It’s been on my mind since reading a Nat Geo article a while back. Water is important to me and knowing what’s in it is important to me. I LOVE our West Virginia streams and all the critters in them. I also professionally work hard to clean them up and to be a water educator.

Why is this project important to West Virginia?

Water is our most important resource in West Virginia, although most of the state would not agree to that statement. Making the connection of trash to microplastics to ingestion is important.

How did you choose your sampling sites?

I live in Charleston, West Virginia, where the Elk River (my drinking water source) flows into the Kanawha River. The Kanawha has many industries along it and I honestly expected to find microplastics in it. The Elk River originates in our beautiful Appalachian Mountains and flows through mainly rural areas until Charleston, so I was hoping it didn’t have microplastics in it.


John Lichter

John Lichter is a a raft guide-turned-entrepreneur who has had one paddle blade or the other in the waters of the rafting industry for decades.


Confessions of a Raft Guide-Turned-Adventure Scientist

In 1975, whitewater rafts that were not yet designed to bale themselves required the use of plastic balers to remove water from the boat after each rapid. Occasionally, a baler would fall out of the boat and into the river. If not immediately retrieved, it would bob beneath the surface before disappearing into the depths.

Each day, raft guides would cut the bottoms off a few more plastic jugs to replace those lost in the river the day before. Who knows where those bottoms ended up, or better yet, how many balers remain on the bottoms of our whitewater rivers?


I’ve been a proud volunteer with Adventure Scientists, and have contributed data to three projects since 2012. I encourage you to join me as a citizen scientist and contribute to the Adventure Scientists mission: to create a world in which access to data will no longer limit the ability to address the world’s challenges.


The extent to which we sampled West Virginia’s waterways and documented the project would not have been possible without invaluable support from these generous, passionate, and adventurous friends:

Tomi Bergstrom, John Lichter, Frank Slider, Jimmy Leonard, Owen Mulkeen, Michelle Paquette, Kyle Kent, Eric Fizer, Chelsea Bricker, Garth Dellinger, and my loving partner and ecologist Nikki Forrester.

Last but certainly not least, a very special thanks to my friend and colleague Gabe DeWitt for his help in creating this microsite. View his work here.