By ELI - March 12, 2024
Type of Position
Company or Organization
Bren Environmental Leadership Program
Santa Barbara, CA
Closing Date

Position Description 

Few studies have determined the amount of microplastic pollution originating from tobacco product waste. Cigarette filters contain plastic in the form of cellulose acetate fibers, which break into fibrous microplastics, namely microfibers, due to environmental exposure. Littered cigarette filters have been identified as a significant source of microplastic pollution globally, releasing an estimated 4 quadrillion cellulose acetate microfibers into the environment each year. These microplastics infiltrate soils and sediments and can contaminate groundwater, especially in areas exposed to treated sewage inputs or untreated stormwater runoff. Assessing the environmental risk of microplastics requires accurate measurements of the amount of these diverse contaminants across water, soil, and sewage. 

Due to the varied properties of microplastics, current methods for determining microplastic composition have underestimated the proportion of microplastic pollution originating from tobacco product waste. This project uses novel methods to determine the amount of cellulose acetate microfibers in groundwater relative to other microplastics. Groundwater is a precious resource that satisfies up to 100% of the water supply needs for municipalities, the agricultural sector, and communities across California.This project provides data on environmental contamination from tobacco product waste that can support California’s precautionary risk assessment framework for microplastic pollution and guide local and global tobacco cessation policies. Tobacco cessation has the potential to save millions of people each year from otherwise preventable deaths resulting from direct and indirect exposure to tobacco smoke. This is especially impactful for communities facing environmental contamination from tobacco product waste, which are often already disproportionately burdened by various social determinants of health. 

During the summer internship, the fellow will work alongside a Bren PhD student to accomplish the following project goals and deliverables: 

-Complete a brief literature review related to the environmental impacts of microplastics and tobacco product waste
-Collect water samples in the field, including wastewater treatment plant biosolids, treated sewage effluent, treated drinking water, treated desalination plant effluent, dry-weather creek runoff, and raw groundwater
-Extract microplastics and other pollutants of interest from water samples using standard lab methods; use microscopy to count and characterize the extracted microplastics
-Develop a short written report and oral presentation to communicate findings, including the literature reviewed and analysis of data using basic descriptive statistics


-Interest in water quality, pollution transport and fate, chemistry, and hydrology
-Ability to work independently and as part of a team
-Organized and punctual, with excellent attention to detail
-Growth-minded and communicative
-Experience with field work and wet lab work is helpful, but not required (training will be provided)


The position is 10 weeks, 35 hours per week, with exact dates flexible between mid-June to mid-September. Payment is $18.57/hour. This position is part of the Bren Environmental Leadership (BEL) Program – the student will participate in professional development training during the summer and a poster session at the Mantell Symposium on Environmental Justice and Conservation Innovation in Fall 2024. 


This position is supported through UCSB’s Center for Equitable Environmental Sciences. Applicants must be full-time continuing UCSB undergraduate students (not graduating within 2024 calendar year) with California resident classification and eligibility to work in the United States. Priority will be given to students who demonstrate financial need, are first-generation college students, and/or identify as being from a group underrepresented in their discipline.

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