In one of the first studies to determine potential sources of microplastics pollution, researchers have found that water samples from UK rivers contained significantly higher concentrations of microplastics downstream from wastewater treatment plants. Scientists from the University of Leeds measured microplastics concentrations up and downstream of the following six wastewater treatment plants and river catchments:
- Wanlip, Soar river catchment, Leicestershire
- Barnard Castle, Tees river catchment, County Durham
- Horbury Junction, Calder river catchment, West Yorkshire
- Naburn, Yorkshire Ouse river catchment, North Yorkshire
- Driffield, Hull river catchment, East Yorkshire
- Thorp Arch, Wharfe river catchment, West Yorkshire
They found all the plants were linked to an increase in microplastics in the rivers – on average up to three times higher but in one instance by a factor of 69.
Lead author Dr Paul Kay, from the School of Geography at Leeds, said:
“Microplastics are one of the least studied groups of contaminants in river systems. These tiny plastic fragments and flakes may prove to be one of the biggest challenges in repairing the widespread environmental harm plastics have caused. Finding key entry points of microplastics, such as wastewater treatment plants, can provide focus points to combating their distribution.
“However, pervasive microplastics were also found in our upstream water samples. So while strengthening environmental procedures at treatment plants could be a big step in halting their spread, we cannot ignore the other ways microplastics are getting into our rivers.”
“These tiny plastic fragments and flakes may prove to be one of the biggest challenges in repairing the widespread environmental harm plastics have caused.”