100% of Water Samples from 9 European Rivers Contain Microplastics
A new study undertaken by French researchers shows that 100% of the water samples taken from 9 European rivers contained microplastics.
The study, carried out by the Tara Ocean Foundation, is the first of its kind, dedicated to investigating plastic pollution in rivers on a European scale.
The project was initiated in partnership with 16 research laboratories and coordinated by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
Over a period of 6 months, from May to November 2019, the research schooner Tara voyaged along the 4 European sea fronts and took samples from 9 major rivers.
According to the Foundation, the study validates the hypothesis that microplastics are ubiquitous in European rivers.
Unsurprisingly, amongst the plastics found in the water samples were microbeads, typically found in toothpastes and cosmetics.
In addition, a high portion of what are termed ‘secondary microplastics’ were discovered.
Secondary microplastics occur as a result of fragmentation of plastics due to factors such as exposure to the sun’s rays.
Measuring less than 5 mm, these microplastics represent more than 90% of the 5,000 billion pieces of plastic floating on the surface of our oceans.
Commenting on the findings, Jean-François Ghiglione, CNRS, Scientific Director of the mission said, ‘This first observation sheds new light on our vision of plastic pollution at sea. We have long thought that the transformation of plastics into microplastics took place at sea, under the effect of the sun and waves. In fact, the process also seems to occur in rivers and their watersheds.’
He said, ‘Research now beginning in the 15 partner laboratories will allow us to better understand the phenomena of plastic fragmentation, quantify what comes from rivers, and evaluate the nature of the plastics in order to orient the measures to be taken.’
The other major observation concerns the toxicity of microplastics in rivers. The study showed the toxic effects on the organisms which ingest them, slowing their growth and reproduction by disrupting their metabolism and their hormonal systems.
Follow up research of the findings will continue over the next 12 to 18 months.
According to the Tara Foundation, there are 5 urgent measures that should be taken immediately. These are:
- Significantly improve the collection and recycling of waste
- Drastically reduce disposable plastics, single-use and other packaging
- Reduce the number of resins and the complexity of additives used in manufacturing plastic objects
- Develop eco-packaging to replace problematic materials such as expanded polystyrene
- Adopt laws setting source reduction calendars for all types of disposable packaging, consistent with European directives.
The foundation has called on the French National Assembly to regulate the use of the terms ‘recyclable,’ recycled,’ ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable,’ as part of its examination of the Circular Economy Law.
(Image: Magda Ehlers via pexels.com)