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Alarming New Studies Find Microplastics "Absolutely Everywhere"

Alarming New Studies Find Microplastics

Microplastic contamination in UK lakes and rivers, US groundwater, along the Yangtze River and along the Spanish coast, and harboring dangerous bacteria in Singapore

Microplastic pollution is spreading around the world, according to new studies showing pollution in UK rivers and lakes, in groundwater in the US, and in the Yangtze River in China and off the coast of Spain.

Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles through food and water, but the potential health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. A study, in Singapore, found that microplastics can harbor harmful microbes.

The new analysis in the UK found microplastic contamination in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per liter were found in the River Tame near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most polluted site ever tested in the world. Even in relatively remote locations, such as Dochart Falls and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces were found per liter.

"It was amazing. We didn't expect to find that much, ”said Christian Dunn of Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing that they were there in some of the most emblematic places in our country. I'm sure Wordsworth wouldn't be happy to find out that his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was contaminated with plastic.

“Microplasts are absolutely everywhere [but] we don't know what dangers they could be posing. It's no use looking back 20 years and saying, "If only we had realized how bad it was." We need to be monitoring our waters now and we must think, as a country and as a world, how we can reduce our dependence on plastic. "

The River Thames in London was found to have about 80 microplastic particles per liter, as did the River Cegin in North Wales. The River Blackwater in Essex was 15. Ullswater is 30 and the Llyn Cefni Reservoir on Anglesey 40.

Microplastics have been shown to harm marine life when mistaken for food and were found within every marine mammal studied in a recent survey in the UK. It was revealed in 2017 that they were in tap water around the world and in October to be consumed by people in Europe, Japan and Russia.

"Microplastic has been found in our rivers, our highest mountains and our deepest oceans," said Julian Kirby, a plastics activist at Friends of the Earth who helped collect water samples for the new UK study. He urged parliamentarians to back the legislation "to dramatically reduce the flow of plastic pollution that is ruining our environment."

Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria in 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included insects that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those related to the bleaching of coral reefs.

Defined as smaller than 5mm in size, microplastics have also been found underground in limestone aquifers in Illinois, USA, at a level of 15 particles per liter. This type of groundwater source provides about a quarter of the world's drinking water.

Other recent studies have found microplastics in bottom creatures and sediments taken from the North Sea and the Barents Sea. High concentrations were also found in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Microplastics are released from synthetic clothing, vehicle tires, and spilled plastic pellets used by manufacturers. The physical breakdown of plastic trash also creates them. Rain washes them in rivers and the sea, but they can also be blown away and end up in fields when sewage residues are used as fertilizer.

Kirsten Thompson from the University of Exeter, who is working with Greenpeace on a survey of microplastics in major UK rivers, said: "We hope that our research will help uncover exactly where this plastic comes from and what impact it may have."

By Damian Carrington

Original article (in English)


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