New report finds widespread plastic pollution in Montana waterways

Media Contacts
Skye Borden

Environment Montana Research & Policy Center

Missoula, MT – Environment Montana Research & Policy Center released a report today that found plastic contamination in 66% of the fifty river access sites it tested in Montana.   

“We found plastics in waterways from every corner of the state, including some of our most remote rivers and lakes,” said state director Skye Borden.

Click here to view an interactive map of the test results.

Unlike biodegradable materials, plastic does not decompose in the environment. It instead breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces known as microplastics.

“For a bird or a fish, it’s easy to mistake these small pieces of plastic for food – especially when there are thousands of pieces of microplastic floating in the waterway,” said Borden.

Scientists have found that ingesting even tiny particles of plastic can alter the behavior and metabolism of fish in our lakes and rivers – and people can ingest these chemicals as they make their way up the food chain.

The report identified microplastics from a wide range of sources. Half (50%) of the sites tested contained microplastic fragments, from polystyrene or hard plastics. Twenty-one (42%) of the sites contained fibers from synthetic fabric or filaments. And nine (18%) of the sites contained film from plastic bags or wrappers.

Scientists are still documenting the scope of plastic pollution and investigating its effects in freshwater ecosystems. But, microplastics have been found in a number of remote environments throughout the world, including Rocky Mountain National Park, the French Pyrenees mountains, and even the Antarctic. Recent local studies have also found plastic in the Gallatin River and Flathead Lake.

“Clearly, this report reaffirms that plastic pollution is not just a coastal problem,” said Borden. “It’s a problem that we will need to address in the Northern Rockies as well.”

The report includes policy recommendations for Montana cities and state agencies, including plans to phase out single-use plastics, encourage reusable materials, and reduce stormwater runoff.

Click here to read a full copy of the report.