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Microplastic Pollution Widespread Across the UK

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New research undertaken by Bangor University and Friends of the Earth has found microplastic pollution in some of the UK’s most iconic rivers and lakes. The study, supposedly the first of its kind, looked at ten sites across the UK. The sites included the Lake District, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, a wetland and a Welsh reservoir. Unfortunately, microplastics were found to be present in all of them.

Dr Christian Dunn, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, states that the findings suggest that microplastic should be considered as an emergent contaminant and that consistent, routine monitoring of all UK waters must take place. Friends of the Earth, an environmental campaigning community, are urging local MPs to support and push for new legislation to phase out plastic pollution within 25 years, including an end to non-essential single-use plastic by 2025.

Using a fluorescence lighting system, researchers were able to identify and count microplastic pollutants, which are less than 5mm in size, per liter of water. Such pieces include plastic fragments, fibers, and film. The preliminary findings revealed microplastic pollution levels ranging from over 1,000 pieces of plastic per litre in the river Tame in Greater Manchester to 2.4 pieces per litre in Loch Lomond.

Last year, a report by Eunomia for Friends of the Earth, estimated that huge quantities of microplastic pollution are entering UK waterways from a number of sources every year. The key sources of pollution include car tyres (7,000-19,000 tonnes), clothing (150-2,900 tonnes), plastic pellets used to make plastic items (200-5,900 tonnes) and paints on buildings and road markings (1,400-3,700 tonnes).

Both Friends of the Earth and Dr Christian Dunn say further work is now essential to fully investigate any health risks from microplastics – to humans and ecosystems – so that “safe” levels can be ascertained, and removal and mitigation processes can be put in place.

The waterways surveyed yielded interesting results, with the River Thames (London) having 84.1 pieces of plastic per litre of water, Llyn Cefni (Anglesey, Wales) having 43.2 pieces of plastic per litre of water and the River Tame (Tameside, Greater Manchester) having over more than 1,000 pieces of plastic per litre of water. Dr Christian Dunn, of Bangor University, commented: “It was more than a little startling to discover microplastics were present in even the most remote sites we tested and quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic.” He also added: “These initial findings, from our team at Bangor University with Friends of the Earth, show that we have to start taking the issue of plastic in our inland waters seriously.”

 

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Charlotte Bilsby

Science Editor 2018-19

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