Wastewater treatment plant effluent as a source of microplastics: review of the fate, chemical interactions and potential risks to aquatic organisms

Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent has been identified as a potential source of microplastics in the aquatic environment. Microplastics have recently been detected in wastewater effluent in Western Europe, Russia and the USA. As there are only a handful of studies on microplastics in wastewater, it is difficult to accurately determine the contribution of wastewater effluent as a source of microplastics. However, even the small amounts of microplastics detected in wastewater effluent may be a remarkable source given the large volumes of wastewater treatment effluent discharged to the aquatic environment annually. Further, there is strong evidence that microplastics can interact with wastewater-associated contaminants, which has the potential to transport chemicals to aquatic organisms after exposure to contaminated microplastics. In this review we apply lessons learned from the literature on microplastics in the aquatic environment and knowledge on current wastewater treatment technologies, with the aim of identifying the research gaps in terms of (i) the fate of microplastics in WWTPs, (ii) the potential interaction of wastewater-based microplastics with trace organic contaminants and metals, and (iii) the risk for aquatic organisms.


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