Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain.
Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes.
The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.
“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is 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.
“Microplastics are being found absolutely everywhere [but] we do not know the dangers they could be posing. It’s no use looking back in 20 years time and saying: ‘If only we’d realised just how bad it was.’ We need to be monitoring our waters now and we need to think, as a country and a world, how we can be reducing our reliance on plastic.”
The River Thames in London was found to have about 80 microplastic particles per litre, as was the River Cegin in North Wales. The Blackwater River in Essex had 15. Ullswater has 30 and the Llyn Cefni reservoir on Anglesey 40.
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