Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of Italian Subalpine Lakes

Plastic debris incidence in marine environment was already highlighted in the early 1970s. Over the last decade, microplastic pollution in the environment has received increasing attention and is now an emerging research area. Many studies have focused on quantifying microplastic abundance in the marine environment, while there are relatively few data on microplastic occurrence in freshwater environment. Recent studies have reported high concentrations of microplastics in lakes and rivers, although the understanding of several factors influencing source, transport and fate is still limited. This study compares different lakes and the common factors, which could influence the occurrence and distribution of microplastics. The three subalpine lakes monitored include Lake Maggiore, Iseo and Garda. The selected sampling transects reflect the hydrologic conditions, the morphometric characteristics of these lakes, and other factors influencing the release of plastics debris in lakes. Particles of microplastics (<5 mm) were found in all sampled surfaces. The particles collected were classified depending on their number, shape and composition. The shape distribution showed the dominating occurrence of fragments (73.7%). The chemical composition of all examined samples clearly shows dominating presence of polyethylene (45%), polystyrene (18%) and polypropylene (15%). The results provide significant relations among the different contribution of direct and diffuse sources to the quantity of microplastics, highlighting the importance of understanding the spatial distribution dynamics of microplastics within a lake system that acts as a sink and source of plastic particles.

Maria Sighicelli, Loris Pietrelli, Francesca Lecce and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 236, May 2018, Pages 645–651

The article


Microplastic Abundance and Composition in Western Lake Superior As Determined via Microscopy, Pyr-GC/MS, and FTIR

While plastic pollution in marine and freshwater systems is an active area of research, there is not yet an in-depth understanding of the distributions, chemical compositions, and fates of plastics in aquatic environments. In this study, the magnitude, distribution, and common polymers of microplastic pollution in surface waters in western Lake Superior are determined. Analytical methodology, including estimates of ambient contamination during sample collection and processing, are described and employed. Microscopy, pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (Pyr-GC/MS), and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) were used to quantify and identify microplastic particles. In surface waters, fibers were the most frequently observed morphology, and, based upon PyGC/MS analysis,  polyvinyl chloride was the most frequently observed polymer, followed by polypropylene and polyethylene. The most common polymer identified by FTIR was polyethylene. Despite the low human population in Lake Superior’s watershed, microplastic particles (particularly fibers, fragments, and films) were identified in western-lake surface waters at levels comparable to average values reported in studies within Lake Michigan, the North Atlantic Ocean, and the South Pacific Ocean. This study provides insight into the magnitude of microplastic pollution in western Lake Superior, and describes in detail methodology to improve future microplastics studies in aquatic systems.

Erik Hendrickson, Elizabeth C. Minor, and Kathryn Schreiner, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, January 18, 2018

Microplastic Effect Thresholds for Freshwater Benthic Macroinvertebrates

Now that microplastics have been detected in lakes, rivers, and estuaries all over the globe, evaluating their effects on biota has become an urgent research priority. This is the first study that aims at determining the effect thresholds for a battery of six freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates with different species traits, using a wide range of microplastic concentrations. Standardized 28 days single species bioassays were performed under environmentally relevant exposure conditions using polystyrene microplastics (20–500 μm) mixed with sediment at concentrations ranging from 0 to 40% sediment dry weight (dw). Microplastics caused no effects on the survival of Gammarus pulex, Hyalella azteca, Asellus aquaticus, Sphaerium corneum, and Tubifex spp. and no effects were found on the reproduction of Lumbriculus variegatus. No significant differences in growth were found for H. azteca, A. aquaticus, S. corneum, L. variegatus, and Tubifex spp. However, G. pulex showed a significant reduction in growth (EC10 = 1.07% sediment dw) and microplastic uptake was proportional with microplastic concentrations in sediment. These results indicate that although the risks of environmentally realistic concentrations of microplastics may be low, they still may affect the biodiversity and the functioning of aquatic communities which after all also depend on the sensitive species.

Paula E. Redondo-Hasselerharm, Dede Falahudin, Edwin T. H. M. Peeters, and Albert A. Koelmans, Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, January 16, 2018

The article

Plastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems: macro-, meso-, and microplastic debris in a floodplain lake

Plastic pollution is considered an important environmental problem by the United Nations Environment Programme, and it is identified, alongside climate change, as an emerging issue that might affect biological diversity and human health. However, despite research efforts investigating plastics in oceans, relatively little studies have focused on freshwater systems. The aim of this study was to estimate the spatial distribution, types, and characteristics of macro-, meso-, and microplastic fragments in shoreline sediments of a freshwater lake. Food wrappers (mainly polypropylene and polystyrene), bags (high- and low-density polyethylene), bottles (polyethylene terephthalate), and disposable Styrofoam food containers (expanded polystyrene) were the dominant macroplastics recorded in this study. Contrary to other studies, herein macroplastic item surveys would not serve as surrogates for microplastic items. This is disadvantageous since macroplastic surveys are relatively easier to conduct. Otherwise, an average of 25 mesoplastics (mainly expanded polystyrene) and 704 microplastic particles (diverse resins) were recorded per square meter in sandy sediments. Comparisons with other studies from freshwater and marine beaches indicated similar relevance of plastic contamination, demonstrating for the first time that plastic pollution is a serious problem in the Paraná floodplain lakes. This study is also valuable from a social/educational point of view, since plastic waste has been ignored in the Paraná catchment as a pollutant problem, and therefore, the outcome of the current study is a relevant contribution for decision makers.

Martin C. M. Blettler, Maria Alicia Ulla, Ana Pia Rabuffetti, Nicolás Garello, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, , 189:581,

The article

Variation in plastic abundance at different lake beach zones – A case study

Image 2Plastic particles in marine and freshwater environments span from macroscopic to microscopic size classes. Each may have a different impact on individuals, populations and ecosystems, but still the wide variety of methods used in beach sediment sampling inhibit comparisons among studies and therefore hampers a risk assessment. A large portion of the uncertainties is due to differing sampling strategies.

By quantifying the alongshore distribution of macro- and microplastic particles within five beaches of Lake Garda, we aim to shed light on the accumulation behavior of microplastic particles at an exemplary lake which might give indications for potential sampling zones. The identification of plastic at the single particle level with a spatial resolution down to 1 μm was performed by Raman microspectroscopy. Given the time consuming approach we reduced the number of samples in the field but increased the spatial area where a single sample was taken, by utilizing a transect approach in combination with sediment cores (5 cm depth).

The study revealed that, in comparison to the water line and the high-water line, the drift line of all five beaches always contained plastic particles. Since the drift line accumulate particulate matter on a relatively distinct zone, it will enable a comparable sampling of microplastic particles. The applied sampling approach provided a representative method for quantifying microplastic down to 1 μm on a shore consisting of pebbles and sand. Hence, as first step towards a harmonization of beach sediment sampling we suggest to perform sampling at the drift line, although further methodological improvements are still necessary.

Hannes K. Imhof, Alexandra C.Wiesheu, Philipp M. Anger and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 613–614, 1 February 2018, Pages 530-537

The article

Microplastics are polluting Lake Winnebago’s fish

A new study is raising concerns about the safety of eating fish from Lake Winnebago.

The research reveals tiny pieces of plastic are skirting the wastewater treatment process to end up in the lake, where they can soak up toxins and are likely being consumed by fish.

Experts say there’s a potential danger that those toxins could be passed on to people who consume fish from the lake.

“It’s definitely a concern,” said Kelly Reyer, outreach coordinator for the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance. “It can go through the food chain and potentially harm the ecosystem as well as public health because of people consuming the fish.”

Plastic microbeads had previously been found in the Great Lakes, prompting state legislation to phase out products that contain them, but experts didn’t know whether they were in Lake Winnebago or other inland waters. (…) (usatoday.com, 10/07/2017)

The news

Microplastics in the sediments of a UK urban lake

While studies on microplastics in the marine environment show their wide-distribution, persistence and contamination of biota, the freshwater environment remains comparatively neglected. Where studies on freshwaters have been undertaken these have been on riverine systems or very large lakes. We present data on the distribution of microplastic particles in the sediments of Edgbaston Pool, a shallow eutrophic lake in central Birmingham, UK. These data provide, to our knowledge, the first assessment of microplastic concentrations in the sediments of either a small or an urban lake and the first for any lake in the UK. Maximum concentrations reached 25–30 particles per 100 g dried sediment (equivalent to low hundreds kg−1) and hence are comparable with reported river sediment studies. Fibres and films were the most common types of microplastic observed. Spatial distributions appear to be due to similar factors to other lake studies (i.e. location of inflow; prevailing wind directions; propensity for biofouling; distribution of macroplastic debris) and add to the growing burden of evidence for microplastic ubiquity in all environments.

Rebecca Vaughan, Simon D. Turner, Neil L. Rose, Environmental Pollution, Volume 229, October 2017, Pages 10–18

The article