Europe’s nine major rivers all contain microplastics

2,700 water samples collected from the four European sea fronts and the nine major rivers in Europe shows that 100% of the water sources contain microplastics. 

Researchers from the Tara Ocean Foundation embarked on a 6-month voyage around Europes water-ways bringing back 2,700 water samples from 45 sites.

The nine rivers were the Thames, Elbe, Rhine, Seine, Ebro, Rhone, Tiber, Garonne and the Loire.

Samples of water were collected from the mouth of each river; downstream and upstream of the first heavily populated city located on each river.

Of the 2,700 samples, the researchers found that 100%  contained microplastics.

All samples contained microbeads that are present in certain cosmetics, toothpaste, suncream, etc. and they also contained a high proportion of plastic that is visible to the naked eye, these are called secondary microplastics resulting from the fragmentation of plastics due to the sun’s rays.

The researchers have concluded that the microplastics represent more than 90% of the 5,000 billion pieces of plastic floating on the surface of our oceans.

During the voyage, traps containing different types of plastic were deliberately immersed.

These plastics showed no sign of toxicity before immersion, but after a one-month stay in the rivers, their toxicity had become positive.

The plastic particles accumulated the pollutants present in rivers (pesticides, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, etc) which can have toxic effects on the organism which ingest them, slowing their growth and reproduction by disrupting their metabolism and hormonal system.

Jean-François Ghiglione, CNRS, scientific director of the project said: ‘This first observation sheds new light on our vision of plastic pollution at sea.

We have long thought that the transformation of plastics into microplastics took place at sea but in fact, the process seems to occur in rivers and their watersheds.’

According to Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Ocean Foundation: ‘This vast proportion of microplastics – already impossible to collect at sea, are transported also by our watersheds and rivers – makes it impossible to clean the rivers. Solutions to this problem are definitely on land.’

In related news, scientists have found large quantities of microplastic pollution in remote Arctic snow, which they say raises questions about how much plastic is entering the air that we breathe.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Pippa Neill

Pippa Neill

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