Microplastic contamination of intertidal sediments of Scapa Flow, Orkney: A first assessment

The concentration of microplastic particles and fibres was determined in the intertidal sediments at selected sites in Scapa Flow, Orkney, using a super-saturated NaCl flotation technique to extract the plastic and FT-IR spectroscopy to determine the polymer types. Mean concentrations were 730 and 2300 kg− 1 sediment (DW), respectively. Detailed spatial and quantitative analysis revealed that their distribution was a function of proximity to populated areas and associated wastewater effluent, industrial installations, degree of shore exposure and complex tidal flow patterns. Sediment samples from Orkney showed similar levels of microplastic contamination as in two highly populate industrialized mainland UK areas, The Clyde and the Firth of Forth. It was concluded that relative remoteness and a comparative small island population are not predictors of lower microplastic pollution. Furthermore, a larger concerted effort across Scotland and the UK is required to establish a baseline microplastic database for the evaluation of future policy measures.

J. Blumenröder, P. Sechet, J.E. Kakkonen, M.G.J. Hartl, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 124, Issue 1, 15 November 2017, Pages 112-120

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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

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Tiny plastic pellets found on 73% of UK beaches

A search of hundreds of beaches across the UK has found almost three-quarters of them are littered with tiny plastic pellets.

The lentil-size pellets known as “nurdles” are used as a raw material by industry to make new plastic products.

But searches of 279 shorelines from Shetland to Scilly revealed that 205 (73%) contained pellets.

The largest number recorded in the Great Winter Nurdle Hunt weekend in early February were found at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, where 33 volunteers from the Widemouth Task Force collected about 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach.

Thousands of the tiny pellets were spotted by volunteers over a short period in locations from Porth Neigwl in Wales to the shoreline in front of the dunes at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool, County Durham, and after stormy conditions on the Isle of Wight. (…) (theguardian.com, 17/02/2017)

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UK Government to investigate whether microplastics pose risk to human health

Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, is to study the risks from eating seafood containing tiny particles of plastic. Experts are concerned that millions of tonnes of tiny debris from plastic bags, bottles and clothes in the world’s oceans could have potentially harmful effects on the body.

Someone eating half a dozen oysters is likely to consume 50 tiny pieces of microplastic, according to a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, released earlier this year.

In its response to the report the Government acknowledged that there is “little evidence” on the impact to human health from eating the plastic. (…) (independent.co.uk, 14/11/2016)

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Presence of microplastic in the digestive tracts of European flounder, Platichthys flesus, and European smelt, Osmerus eperlanus, from the River Thames

Like many urban catchments, the River Thames in London is contaminated with plastics. This pollutant is recorded on the river banks, in the benthic environment and in the water column. The present study was conducted to assess the extent of microplastic ingestion in two River Thames fish species, the European flounder (Platichthys flesus) and European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus). Samples were collected from two sites in Kent, England; Erith and Isle of Grain/Sheppey, near Sheerness, with the latter being more estuarine. The results revealed that up to 75% of sampled European flounder had plastic fibres in the gut compared with only 20% of smelt. This difference may be related to their diverse feeding behaviours: European flounder are benthic feeders whilst European smelt are pelagic predators. The fibres were predominantly red or black polyamides and other fibres included acrylic, nylon, polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate and there was no difference in occurrence between the sites sampled.

A.R. McGoran, P.F. Clark, D. Morritt, Environmental Pollution, Volume 220, Part A, January 2017, Pages 744–751

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