Microplastic pollution four times higher in European freshwater lakes near human activity, research finds

By Mason Quah

RESEARCH by the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences has revealed that lake water near human activity had quadruple the level of microplastic pollution.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Tanentzap noted that the level of pollution could be predicted according to the usage of the surrounding lands, allowing the research to be used to guide future monitoring of microplastic pollution.

He said: “Our models can inform control and remediation efforts, by identifying hotspots of microparticle pollution based on surrounding land use and water quality.”

“Almost all attention on plastic pollution focuses on the oceans, but we have discovered that Europe’s lakes – our drinking water sources – are similarly polluted by microscopic plastics and man-made fibres.”

In salt-water ecosystems, where the majority of microplastic pollution research has been conducted, this results in increasing concentrations of plastic going up the food chain as the plastic eaten by small fish accumulates in predators that prey upon them.

Current practises in water filtration reduces the amount of microplastic in drinking water, with the World Health Organisation reporting in 2019 that “no reliable information suggests it is a concern.”

The WHO report did concede to a lack of information to fully confirm this information and noted that microplastic pollution should still be minimised to improve other health and environmental outcomes.

The research conducted by Tanentzap’s team did also make a novel discovery that lakes with active microbiomes contained 80% fewer microparticles, suggesting the presence of naturally occurring species able to remove the pollution.

Future research could aim to isolate these species and attempt to scale up their plastic degrading abilities.

Presently, the best solution is prevention, according to the European Environmental Agency. This requires both changing how we dispose of plastic and the extent to which we rely on it in the first place.

Plastic textiles in clothing reduce the amount of farmland dedicated to cotton, but produces between 200,000 to 500,000 tones of microplastic pollution annually.

Because organic textiles produce their own issues through excessive land and water use, rather than excluding plastics for fear of microplastic pollution, the EEA advocates for the optimising our use of materials.

Circular economic measures such as recycling and refurbishing can minimise both the amount of plastic produced and disposed of.

Plastics are not the only environmental pollutant we should be aware of, but they are less understood than fertilizer and pesticide runoff and water overuse.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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