Microplastics are 'littering' riverbeds

From BBC - March 12, 2018

Microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibres are littering riverbeds across the UK - from rural streams to urban waterways.

This is according to a study that analysed sediments from rivers in north-west England.

Scientists from the University of Manchester tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found "microplastics everywhere".

There is evidence that such small particles can enter the food chain.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, are the first from a "systematic basin-wide" study, the researchers say.

In a first round of tests, just one of the sites - in the upper reaches of the River Goyt, which is one of the tributaries of the River Mersey - contained no plastic. But when the researchers returned to that site to repeat their test, that area had become contaminated.

"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.

"We just need to get out there and see. We still do not know the full scale of the microplastic problem," she told BBC News.

"Wherever you have people and industry, you will have high levels of micro plastic," added Prof Jamie Woodward, from Manchester University's School of Geography.

'Plastic hotspots'

To analyse river sediments, researchers isolated patches of riverbed and measured the concentration within those patches. Some urban "hotspots" contained hundreds of thousands of plastic particles per square metre. This included a site at the River Tame in Denton - a downstream, suburban stretch of river - that contained more than half a million plastic particles per square metre.

"According to our literature search on microplastics in the ocean, in sediments on beaches, in lakes - and the small amount of data on rivers elsewhere - this is currently the highest concentration found anywhere," said Prof Woodward.

Flushed by flooding


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