The Thames river in London is potentially dumping large quantities of microplastics into the North Sea, according to new research published in the journal Science of The Total Environment. Studies by post-graduate student Katherine Rowley of Royal Holloway, University of London (Egham / UK; www.royalholloway.ac.uk
), found that at peak ebb tides around 94,000 microplastic pieces flow down the Thames every second.
Microplastics such as glitter and packaging fragments have been found in high levels in the Thames (Photo: PantherMedia/0635925410)
Microplastics, which are less than 5 mm in length, come from a variety of consumer goods, including clothes and personal products, and make their way into rivers, waterways and oceans via domestic drainage systems and littering. Once in the marine environment, they pose problems for marine life, as fish and other animals ingest the material as part of their diet.
Rowley recorded many forms of microplastics in the Thames, ranging from glitter and microbeads to plastic fragments. Her study found that 93.5% of microplastics in the water column were most likely formed from the fragmentation of larger plastic items, with food packaging thought to be a significant source for the material found.
Our study provides baseline data for microplastic contamination in the River Thames water column. Globally, in comparison to published estimates of microplastic contamination in marine and freshwater environments, the River Thames contains very high levels of this pollutant, potentially a major input to the North Sea, Rowley said.
Other Royal Holloway research suggested that while fibres from washing machine outflows and potentially from sewage outfalls were most commonly ingested by wildlife, it was fragments from the breakup of larger plastics, such as packaging items, that were most abundant in the water. And whereas pollution from trace metals used to be a big problem for the river, this is now on the decline, and the major issue is now the contamination of the Thames by plastics.
Professor Dave Morritt from the Department of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, said, Taken together these studies show how many different types of plastic, from microplastics in the water through to larger items of debris physically altering the foreshore, can potentially affect a wide range of organisms in the River Thames.
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