Microplastics are ‘littering’ UK riverbeds

According to a study that analysed sediments from rivers in north-west England, microscopic plastic beads, fragments and fibers are littering riverbeds across the UK – from rural streams to urban waterways.

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.

“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 don’t know the full scale of the microplastic problem.”

“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.

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 meter. This included a site at the River Tame that contained more than half a million plastic particles per square meter.

One recent study in the United States linked wastewater treatment plants with the release of plastic into the environment. And the scientists think that wastewater is likely to make a large contribution – particularly of microfibers from synthetic clothing and microbeads.

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