Mountains to the sea: River study of plastic and non-plastic microfiber pollution in the northeast USA

Aquatic environments are sinks for anthropogenic contamination, whether chemical or solid pollutants. Microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles contribute to this problem. These can be plastic or non-plastic origin. Our aim was to investigate the presence and distribution of both types of anthropogenic microfibers along the length of the Hudson River, USA. Surface grab samples were collected and filtered through a 0.45 μm filter paper. Abundance of fibers was determined after subtraction of potential contamination. 233 microfibers were recorded in 142 samples, averaging 0.98 microfibers L− 1. Subsequent micro-FTIR showed half of the fibers were plastic while the other half were non-plastic, but of anthropogenic origin. There was no relationship between fiber abundance, wastewater treatment plant location or population density. Extrapolating from this data, and using available hydrographic data, 34.4% of the Hudson River’s watershed drainage area contributes an average 300 million anthropogenic microfibers into the Atlantic Ocean per day.

R. Miller, A. J. R. Watts, B. O. Winslow and al., Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 22 July 2017, In Press, Corrected Proof

The article


Occurrence of phthalate acid esters (PAEs) in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River

Phthalate acid esters (PAEs) which are mainly anthropogenic molecules with endocrine disrupting effects in animals and humans, have been detected in terrestrial and aquatic environments. However, little is known about their distribution in the Mediterranean Sea, mainly because of analytical difficulties and the high possibility of ambient sample contamination. Here, we report the optimization of an existing protocol for the determination of PAEs in seawater and freshwater samples, as well as the first estimation of the source and distribution of phthalates acid esters (PAEs) in coastal waters from the NW Mediterranean Sea. By passing 1 L of sample through glass cartridges packed with 200 mg of Oasis HLB and eluted with 6 mL of ethyl acetate, the recoveries for DMP, DEP, DPP, DiBP, DnBP, BzBP, DEHP and DnOP were 101, 98, 115, 110, 99, 98, 103 and 95%, respectively, with acceptable blank values (below 0.4-4.0% of the masses measured in different seawater samples). By using this method, we detected PAEs in the Marseilles coastal area, offshore (2000 m depth) and in the Rhone River with total concentrations ranging from 75.3 ng/L offshore in surface water to 1207.1 ng/L a few meters above the bottom of the Marseilles Bay. High concentrations were also observed in deep waters offshore (310.2 ng/L) as well as in the Rhone River (615.1 ng/L). These results suggest that Marseilles urban area, Rhone River and sediment are potential sources of PAEs in the areas studied.

Andrea Paluselli, Yann Aminot, François Galgani, Sopheak Net, Richard Sempéré, Progress in Oceanography, Available online 21 June 2017, In Press

The article

Freshwater’s macro microplastic problem

Like in the oceans, the bulk of the pollution in rivers and lakes is not in the form of plastic bottles and other large pieces, but tiny pieces called microplastics that would be hard to spot. “Three quarters of what we take out of the Great Lakes are less than a millimeter in size,” she says. “It’s basically the size of a period of a sentence.” These plastics are concerning to scientists because they are being ingested by a variety of aquatic organisms. (…) (, 11/05/2017)

The news

Occurrence and Characteristics of Microplastic Pollution in Xiangxi Bay of Three Gorges Reservoir, China

Microplastic pollution in inland waters is receiving growing attentions. Reservoirs are suspected to be particularly vulnerable to microplastic pollution. However, very limited information is currently available on pollution characteristics of microplastics in reservoir ecosystems. This work studied the distribution and characteristics of microplastics in the backwater area of Xiangxi River, a typical tributary of the Three Gorges Reservoir. Microplastics were detected in both surface water and sediment with concentrations ranging from 0.55 × 105 to 342 × 105 items km–2 and 80 to 864 items m–2, respectively. Polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene were identified in surface water, whereas polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate, and pigments were observed in sediment. In addition, microplastics were also detected in the digestion tracts of 25.7% of fish samples, and polyethylene and nylon were identified. Redundancy analysis indicates a weak correlation between microplastics and water quality variables but a negative correlation with water level of the reservoir and Secchi depth. Results from this study confirm the presence of high abundance microplastics in reservoir impacted tributaries, and suggest that water level regulated hydrodynamic condition and input of nonpoint sources are important regulators for microplastic accumulation and distribution in the backwater area of reservoir tributaries.

Kai Zhang, Xiong Xiong, Hongjuan Hu and al., Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (7), pp 3794–3801

The article

Microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments: Evaluating the current understanding to identify the knowledge gaps and future research priorities

Plastic debris is an environmentally persistent and complex contaminant of increasing concern. Understanding the sources, abundance and composition of microplastics present in the environment is a huge challenge due to the fact that hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic material is manufactured for societal use annually, some of which is released to the environment. The majority of microplastics research to date has focussed on the marine environment. Although freshwater and terrestrial environments are recognised as origins and transport pathways of plastics to the oceans, there is still a comparative lack of knowledge about these environmental compartments. It is highly likely that microplastics will accumulate within continental environments, especially in areas of high anthropogenic influence such as agricultural or urban areas. This review critically evaluates the current literature on the presence, behaviour and fate of microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments and, where appropriate, also draws on relevant studies from other fields including nanotechnology, agriculture and waste management. Furthermore, we evaluate the relevant biological and chemical information from the substantial body of marine microplastic literature, determining the applicability and comparability of this data to freshwater and terrestrial systems. With the evidence presented, the authors have set out the current state of the knowledge, and identified the key gaps. These include the volume and composition of microplastics entering the environment, behaviour and fate of microplastics under a variety of environmental conditions and how characteristics of microplastics influence their toxicity. Given the technical challenges surrounding microplastics research, it is especially important that future studies develop standardised techniques to allow for comparability of data. The identification of these research needs will help inform the design of future studies, to determine both the extent and potential ecological impacts of microplastic pollution in freshwater and terrestrial environments.

Alice A. Horton, Alexander Walton, David J. Spurgeon, Elma Lahive, Claus Svendsen, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 586, 15 May 2017, Pages 127–141

The article

Statistical Survey of Persistent Organic Pollutants: Risk Estimations to Humans and Wildlife through Consumption of Fish from U.S. Rivers

U.S. EPA conducted a national statistical survey of fish tissue contamination at 540 river sites (representing 82 954 river km) in 2008–2009, and analyzed samples for 50 persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including 21 PCB congeners, 8 PBDE congeners, and 21 organochlorine pesticides. The survey results were used to provide national estimates of contamination for these POPs. PCBs were the most abundant, being measured in 93.5% of samples. Summed concentrations of the 21 PCB congeners had a national weighted mean of 32.7 μg/kg and a maximum concentration of 857 μg/kg, and exceeded the human health cancer screening value of 12 μg/kg in 48% of the national sampled population of river km, and in 70% of the urban sampled population. PBDEs (92.0%), chlordane (88.5%) and DDT (98.7%) were also detected frequently, although at lower concentrations. Results were examined by subpopulations of rivers, including urban or nonurban and three defined ecoregions. PCBs, PBDEs, and DDT occur at significantly higher concentrations in fish from urban rivers versus nonurban; however, the distribution varied more among the ecoregions. Wildlife screening values previously published for bird and mammalian species were converted from whole fish to fillet screening values, and used to estimate risk for wildlife through fish consumption.

Angela L. Batt, John B. Wathen, James M. Lazorchak, Anthony R. Olsen, and Thomas M. Kincaid,  Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, February 23, 2017