Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

First-of-its-Kind Study Points to Higher Levels of Ocean Microplastics

Popular
The University of Manchester

Scientists and environmentalists have raised the alarm about microplastics polluting our oceans. Now, researchers at the University of Manchester have revealed more details of how they might get there.


The first ever catchment-wide microplastic study, published March 12 in Nature Geoscience, assessed microplastic contamination in the sediments of river beds along 40 sites in northwest England. Researchers discovered microplastics in every river bed they studied. But when they returned to the sites after a period of extensive flooding, they found that 70 percent of the microplastics had been washed out to sea.

A graphic, published in the study, shows the concentration of microplastics and microbeads before and after flooding. Nature Geoscience

"We are only beginning to understand the extent of the microplastic contamination problem in the world's rivers. To tackle the problem in the oceans, we have to prevent microplastics entering river channels," Jamie Woodward, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of Manchester, said in a university press release.

On one site along the River Tame, the researchers found 50 percent more microplastic particles than had previously been recorded in one place, The Guardian reported. But the study's implications extend far beyond the Manchester watershed.

Since flooding flushed 43 billion plastic particles out of the studied rivers, researchers concluded that the current five-trillion estimate for plastic particles in the oceans is far too low.

"This is a small to medium sized catchment in the north of England, it is one flood event, it is just one year—there is no way that [five trillion global] estimate is right," Rachel Hurley, another of the study's authors, told The Guardian.

Microplastics are a problem for marine animals, who ingest them by accident. A February study found the particles in 73 percent of 233 fish pulled from the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Humans also consume them once they move up the food chain, though it is still unknown to what degree they impact human health.

While the Manchester study suggests the problem is even greater than previously believed, it also offers the possibility of stopping it at its source. The study's authors recommend stricter regulations monitoring how waste flows into urban rivers.

"[W]e hope that improvements in wastewater management will be put in place in the future," Woodward said.

The UK already took one decisive step against plastic pollution in January, when it banned microbeads, small plastic spheres often used as exfoliants in cosmetics. Microbeads made up a third of the plastics found in the Manchester study, though researchers told The Guardian they might have come from industrial uses not included in the recent ban.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An aerial view of a crude oil storage facility of Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) in the Krasnodar Territory. Vitaly Timkiv / TASS / Getty Images

Oil rigs around the world keep pulling crude oil out of the ground, but the global pandemic has sent shockwaves into the market. The supply is up, but demand has plummeted now that industry has ground to a halt, highways are empty, and airplanes are parked in hangars.

Read More Show Less
Examples (from left) of a lead pipe, a corroded steel pipe and a lead pipe treated with protective orthophosphate. U.S. EPA Region 5

Under an agreement negotiated by community groups — represented by NRDC and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project — the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) will remove thousands of lead water pipes by 2026 in order to address the chronically high lead levels in the city's drinking water and protect residents' health.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

By Dave Cooke

So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.

Read More Show Less

By Richard Connor

A blood test that screens for more than 50 types of cancer could help doctors treat patients at an earlier stage than previously possible, a new study shows. The method was used to screen for more than 50 types of cancer — including particularly deadly variants such as pancreatic, ovarian, bowel and brain.

Read More Show Less
Ian Sane / Flickr

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control showed a larger number of young people coming down with COVID-19 than first expected, with patients under the age of 45 comprising more than a third of all cases, and one in five of those patients requiring hospitalization. That also tends to be the group most likely to use e-cigarettes.

Read More Show Less