Jul 12, 2018

Link Found Between Microplastics in Rivers and Wastewater Treatment Plants in England

Impact on public health resulting from the presence of the microplastics has not been fully assessed

Study links high microplastic concentrations in rivers to wastewater treatment plants

According to new research out of the University of Leeds in England, microplastics in rivers are found in higher concentrations downstream from wastewater treatment plants. Researchers analyzed river samples downstream from six wastewater treatment plants in northern England for the findings.

On average, the concentration of microplastics downstream from the wastewater treatment plants was three times higher than normal. In one instance, the concentration was higher by a factor of 69. Microplastics are coined by the EPA as “a newly identified contaminant,” and the human health impacts of the contaminant have not yet fully been analyzed and assessed.

The main sources for microplastics in England and throughout the world stem mainly from plastic manufacturing and recycling industries, landfills, wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks.

In most areas, microplastics are not removed by the wastewater or water treatment processes, meaning the only way to halt them from infiltrating public waters would be to eliminate them at the source.

“Not that long ago microbeads in toiletries and cosmetics were the microplastics getting all the public attention,” said Dr. Paul Kay, lead author of the UK study. “Seeing the amount of plastic microfibers from clothing and textiles polluting our rivers, we need to think seriously about the role of our synthetic fabrics in long-term environmental harm.”

Microplastics are just one of many “emerging contaminants” identified by EPA, each prompting new technologies or processes necessary to properly treat water or wastewater to eliminate potential public health risks.