British rivers found to be awash with microplastics

Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought. The River Tame in Denton has the highest microplastic pollution yet discovered on Earth- even worse than built-up areas in South Korea and Hong Ko

Urban flooding is causing microplastics to be flushed into our oceans even faster than thought. The River Tame in Denton has the highest microplastic pollution yet discovered on Earth- even worse than built-up areas in South Korea and Hong Ko

Although around 90% of microplastic contamination in the oceans is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their storage and movements in river basins.

The research also revealed that the River Tame, near Manchester, in the United Kingdom, has the highest microplastic pollution discovered so far anywhere in the world, with levels even greater than hugely built-up areas such as in South Korea and Hong Kong.

The scientists are calling for tighter regulations and also for Britain to wean itself off the use of plastics.

But when the team from Manchester University re-sampled the sites after severe floods in the winter of 2015-16, they found 70 per cent of the micro plastics had been swept away down the rivers and out to sea.

Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibres and plastic fragments which enter river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.

Much of the plastic floats rather than sinks, so it is swallowed by marine animals who can not digest it. Chemicals also leach into the water, and it has been shown that even humans who eat seafood ingest 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year.

Jamie Woodward, Professor of Physical Geography at the Department of Geography, said the results were likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

Co-author of the report Professor Jamie Woodward told United Kingdom newspaper The Telegraph the presence of microplastics in rivers was a "huge problem".

Waterways in Greater Manchester are now so heavily contaminated by microplastics that particles are found in every sample - including even the smallest streams. "Wherever you find people, you find plastic".

"We found we had the worst levels in the world, some of which were extraordinarily high". It also found rivers were often more affected by microplastic pollution than other bodies of water.

It has been shown that a single polyester fleece jacket can release more than 1900 plastic fibres per wash while, until they were banned in January, plastic microbeads were common in toothpastes, shampoos and shower gels. "To tackle the problem in the oceans, we have to prevent microplastics entering river channels".

"We are only beginning to understand the extent of the microplastic contamination problem in the world's rivers".

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