Municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are frequently suspected as significant point sources or conduits of microplastics to the environment. To directly investigate these suspicions, effluent discharges from seven tertiary plants and one secondary plant in Southern California were studied. The study also looked at influent loads, particle size/type, conveyance, and removal at these wastewater treatment facilities. Over 0.189 million liters of effluent at each of the seven tertiary plants were filtered using an assembled stack of sieves with mesh sizes between 400 and 45 μm. Additionally, the surface of 28.4 million liters of final effluent at three tertiary plants was skimmed using a 125 μm filtering assembly. The results suggest that tertiary effluent is not a significant source of microplastics and that these plastic pollutants are effectively removed during the skimming and settling treatment processes. However, at a downstream secondary plant, an average of one micro-particle in every 1.14 thousand liters of final effluent was counted. The majority of microplastics identified in this study had a profile (color, shape, and size) similar to the blue polyethylene particles present in toothpaste formulations. Existing treatment processes were determined to be very effective for removal of microplastic contaminants entering typical municipal WWTPs.
Steve A. Carr, Jin Liu, Arnold G. Tesoro, Water Research, Volume 91, Pages 174–182, 15 March 2016