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Our ability to assess global risks of microplastics (MP), particles < 5mm, on environmental and public health is limited by the lack of knowledge of their transport, fate and ecotoxicological impacts in freshwater ecosystems. Despite regulators and industry stakeholders recognising the global threat of MPs as critical emerging pollutants, studies have almost exclusively been focused on marine ecosystems or local freshwater case studies. Although local case studies provide evidence of freshwater MP contamination, a local approach limits the potential for generalisation and up-scaling of site-specific research. This project aims to understand the distribution of MPs in rivers globally, and in particular how their physical (size, shape, density) and chemical properties (incl. additives such as Bisphenol A (BPA) and Nonylphenol (NP)) differ. MP characteristic differences are expected in relation to catchment properties, prevalence of primary and secondary MP sources, and hydrodynamic and sediment conditions. Utilising global partnerships, sediment and water samples are being collected from a range of sites with a custom-made sampling kit. Sediment and water samples collected globally will be returned to the University of Birmingham whereby microplastic contamination will be quantified using various novel techniques; such as Nile Red and Thermo-Gravimetric-InfraRed-Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (TG-IR-GC/MS). This project provides a standardized approach to quantify MP contamination in a wide range of research sites, providing the first global set of comparable microplastic data in freshwater environments.
Author: Holly Nel*, Jennifer Drummond, Stefan Krause, Anna Kukkola, Iseult Lynch, Greg Sambrook Smith
* presenting author
Affiliation: University of Birmingham, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TT, UK