MAR 13, 2018 07:49 AM PDT

UK rivers toxic with microplastics

It’s no news that microplastics are invading our oceans and through biomagnification, our food chains. But a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience says that microplastics aren’t only in ocean ecosystems – they’re in rivers, too. The University of Manchester study, which looked at sediments from 40 rivers and waterways all over northwest England, found microplastics “everywhere”. Though the study only analyzed sediments in the Greater Manchester water basin, the team of scientists say their research is preliminary, and that pollution from microplastics in rivers is a greater issue than people realize.

"We just need to get out there and see. We still don't know the full scale of the microplastic problem. I think that it is likely that there are even higher concentrations in some of the large rivers passing through global megacities," said lead researcher Dr. Rachel Hurley.

In order to understand the reality of the situation, the team isolated sections of riverbed and measured the level of microplastic contamination in those sections. They reported that no waterway was untouched, even rural streams seemingly far from human influence. However, by far the most contaminated river was the River Tame at Denton, which measured 517,000 particles per square meter. That’s the highest level of microplastics documented in the entire world at the moment. The team calls this river, along with others with similar levels of pollution a “hotspot”.

The scientists say that more work is needed in order to determine the specific sources of the microplastics. "In urban environments, microplastics may come from wastewater and sewer systems, from plastic litter that is broken up and fragmented, and even from the air.” Often times in treatment plants microplastics slip right through filters because they are so small. “Sources may not be active all of the time, so they are difficult to track…" said Dr. Hurley.

Microbeads like these are a huge risk for animals and humans. Photo: Resource Magazine

And, of course, there is a greater concern of rivers polluted with microplastics: all rivers lead to the ocean. According to The Telegraph, “a single polyester fleece jacket can release more than 1900 plastic fibers per wash.” All those little plastics add up - one estimate says we put 6.4 million tons of plastic in our oceans every year; a lot of which ends up in fishes’ stomachs and later in our own. Do you eat seafood? Did you know that humans who eat seafood ingest approximately 11,000 pieces of microplastic every year? Think about that for a moment.

Sources: The Telegraph, BBC News, Nature Geoscience

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
SEP 26, 2018
Plants & Animals
SEP 26, 2018
Climate Change Isn't the Leading Cause of Global Amphibian Decline; Humans Are
Around the globe, amphibians of all types are experiencing sharp population declines. Climate change has long been the primary rationalization for this unf...
OCT 03, 2018
Earth & The Environment
OCT 03, 2018
Research suggests climate change deniers experience fewer extreme weather events
New research confirms what personal anecdotes have long told: it isn’t easy convincing climate change deniers of the anthropogenic causes of our plan...
OCT 11, 2018
Earth & The Environment
OCT 11, 2018
This bacterium can fight dangerous groundwater contaminants
A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters highlights the effectiveness of a bacterium called Azoarcus sp. DD4 (DD4) at degrad...
OCT 27, 2018
Earth & The Environment
OCT 27, 2018
China is emitting a banned ozone-depleting substance
Recent investigations into the emissions of carbon tetrachloride have revealed that eastern China has been releasing large amounts of the substance into th...
NOV 01, 2018
Earth & The Environment
NOV 01, 2018
Palau to ban sunscreen
Palau has just announced that by 2020 it will be banning the sale and use of sunscreen and skin care products containing 10 chemicals harmful to marine spe...
NOV 23, 2018
Microbiology
NOV 23, 2018
Researchers Surprised to Find Giant Viruses in Forest Soil
Viruses were thought of as tiny infectious agents for the most part, until researchers began to discover more and more giant viruses....
Loading Comments...