- New research along the Ganges River exposes the extensive presence of microplastic particles in the river’s sediments, air, and water.
- Scientists discovered 41 microplastic particles per square meter in the river’s atmosphere, with even higher concentrations in sediment samples.
- Clothing fibers, particularly rayon, were identified as the most common type of microplastics in the samples.
- The study highlights the urgent need to address the issue of microplastic pollution in river systems and the potential environmental consequences.
- This research provides valuable local data that sheds light on the extent of microplastic pollution in the Ganges River and other major river systems worldwide.
A new study conducted along the length of the Ganges River in South Asia has shed light on the extensive presence of microplastic particles in river sediments, air, and water. The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, marks the first comprehensive analysis of microplastics in a major river system.
Ganges study: Alarming microplastic pollution
The study, carried out by an international team of scientists as part of the National Geographic Society’s Sea to Source Ganga expedition, revealed alarming findings. Researchers found an average of 41 microplastic particles per square meter, per day, in the atmosphere along the Ganges River. Additionally, sediment samples from the river bed contained an average of 57 particles per kilogram, while one microplastic particle was found in every 20 liters of water.
Lead study author Dr. Imogen Napper, a research fellow at the University of Plymouth and National Geographic Explorer, highlighted the significance of the study’s findings. “Rivers have long been recognized as major transporters of microplastics into the marine environment,” she said. “However, the extent of plastic pollution carried by rivers, especially when submerged for extended periods, has remained uncertain. This study helps unravel that mystery and exposes the true scale of microplastic pollution in our river systems.”
The study also identified clothing fibers or threads as the most common type of microplastics, accounting for 99 percent of the particles found in some samples. Among these fibers, rayon emerged as the dominant polymer, followed by acrylic and polyester. Blue was found to be the most prevalent color.
Sediment holds more microplastics: clothes suspected
Sediment samples were found to contain a higher concentration of microplastic particles compared to water and air samples. The researchers believe that clothes may be a major source of microplastics in the Ganges River system, influenced by factors such as atmospheric deposition, wastewater, and the washing of clothes in the river.
Dr. Anju Baroth, scientist and PI at the Wildlife Institute of India, emphasized the significance of the study’s local data. “Previous studies based on modeling have indicated that rivers in Asia are the largest contributors to microplastic pollution in the ocean,” she said. “This research, based on primary local data, provides clear information on the levels of microplastics in various environmental matrices in the Ganges River and other major river systems worldwide, which may have even higher microplastic concentrations.”
“Our research shows that clothing is the major source of microplastics in the air, water and sediment of this vast river system, enabling us to work with partners and policy makers to seek locally appropriate solutions,” says co-author Professor Heather Koldewey, from the Zoological Society of London, UK.
“These can be informed and supported by the brilliant scientists from Bangladesh and India who were key members of the team involved in this paper.”
Downstream microplastic concentrations increase
Microplatics increased further downstream, and they also showed higher concentrations near large population centers. Dr. Imogen Napper, a research fellow at the University of Plymouth, UK, and the lead author of the study, notes that scientists have long recognized rivers as significant sources of microplastics.
However, questions persisted regarding the volumes being transported and whether they acted as long-term storage sites. Napper states, “This study helps unravel that mystery, shedding light on the actual extent of microplastic pollution that our river systems can embody.”
The study’s findings underscore the urgent need for further research and action to address the growing problem of microplastic pollution in river ecosystems. Efforts to reduce plastic waste, improve waste management systems, and raise awareness about the environmental impact of microplastics are crucial to safeguarding the health of our rivers and oceans.
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