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Microplastics contamination in Bhopal's soil: research

Research confirms that microplastics will be produced due to subpar recycling and waste management practices in Bhopal.

By pragyaanant
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bhopal microplastics research

Microplastics contamination in Bhopal | Research confirms that a significant amount of microplastics will be produced due to subpar recycling and waste management practices. According to research published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances, microplastics have been found in the soil of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, in the Central region of India. 

The ten soil samples collected by researchers contained 752 microplastic particles. There has been a report of 180 particles/kg being the most significant level at any site. Particles were belongs to five different classes, including,

  • polyethylene,
  • polypropylene,
  • polyvinyl chloride,
  • polyethylene terephthalate, and
  • polyvinyl acetate.

A surrounding wetland (lake), national park, and groundwater may become contaminated due to microplastics' presence in the study region. The prevalence of microplastics in several different environmental matrices and their relationship to anthropogenic activities in the Central Indian region must be investigated.

Identification, characterization, and implications of microplastics in soil
Photo: Identification, characterization, and implications of microplastics in soil – A case study of Bhopal, central India

The Field of Study

The current research was conducted by National Institute for Research in Environmental Health in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Textiles, electrical goods, jewelry, and chemicals are some of the businesses that contribute significantly to Bhopal's economy. Tourism is also a burgeoning business with numerous tourist destinations in and around Bhopal, including lakes, national parks, and UNESCO world heritage sites. Bhopal produces over 800 tonnes of solid garbage every day, of which approximately 14% or 112 tonnes of plastic waste.

As one of Bhopal's key industries, tourism is also a severe cause of microplastic contamination in soil. Scientists have collected ten soil samples at locations close to the upper lake area and the outer reaches of Bhopal's Van Vihar National Park. The main tourist attraction of Bhopal is the upper lake, a component of the Bhoj wetland and a Ramsar site. The city's drinking water supply is primarily sourced from this lake. In the lake, people engage in various activities like boating, water skiing, fishing, etc. small scale businesses are also run in this area due to the high number of tourist attractions. However, the Upper Lake is bordered by the protected Van Vihar National Park. As a protected area, several restrictions are controlling pollution and protecting the environment.

Microplastic contamination in Bhopal soil

All of the soil yielded microplastics, indicating severe pollution. The collected particles were colored differently, indicating that they came from various sources. The presence of color in the particles also suggests that these plastics contain stabilizers, pigments, and other chemicals. When they leach, could cause significant damage to the environment. PVC-type microplastics were prevalent (28%) in samples, followed by the presence of PP (26%), PET (25%), and PE (21%).

PVC is mainly used for wrapping, particularly shrink-wrap, which is widely utilized in various commercial food products. The presence of PP suggests that the lake area is full of ropes, twines, and cement sacks. PET microplastics come from shopping bags and water bottles made of PET. Whereas, PE is widely used in things like fruit juice containers, food packaging, supermarket, and rubbish bags.

These kinds of microplastic particles could be quickly confirmed because soil samples were taken from popular tourist destinations where boating, fishing, and other activities are prevalent, coupled with numerous restaurants and retail establishments. It is important to note that some samples collected outside of the protected region (Van Vihar National Park) were also found to be contaminated with microplastics but in much fewer quantities. The protected area contributed around 8% of the total amount of microplastics that were collected. Since plastic products are prohibited inside the park, it is reasonable to assume that the particles there may have been transported by atmospheric means from nearby areas.

The protected area of the Gulf of Venice has also been shown to have similar types of microplastic particles. Microplastics have been found in the soil of the research location, which suggests that a high number of visitors generates more plastic debris. Additionally, an inadequate waste management system and erratic behavioral patterns lead to the dumping of plastic products in the soil, where they degrade into microplastics.

Consequences of microplastics being found in soil

Since soil samples for the current study were taken close to the Upper Lake area and Van Vihar national park, soil microplastics are expected to be transported by the atmosphere and contaminate these areas. Due to their negligible weight, microplastic particles may also spread to neighboring places that are otherwise uncontaminated. It is also vital to highlight that microplastics function exceptionally well as vectors for various molecules such as metals, pollutants, microorganisms, chemicals, colors, etc., which further threaten the ecosystem.

It is significant since Upper Lake is most of Bhoj Wetland, a Ramsar site. The upper lake covers 3072 hectares, or 96%, of the total 3201 hectares of the Bhoj wetland. The wetland is home to about 700 different species of diverse flora and fauna and is rich in biodiversity. In addition, the upper lake is essential to the city's source of drinking water. With a catchment area of 361 square kilometers and a water storage capacity of 117 million cubic meters, the upper lake contributes to about 40% of Bhopal's supply of drinkable water.

Therefore, the population that the lake's water serves will be affected by the microplastic contamination of the lake's water in addition to the lake's floral and faunal species. Fish and other aquatic creatures will be exposed to microplastics due to contamination of lake water. The idea is that after these fish are eaten, the infection would move up the food chain and eventually reach people. According to reports, one of the main ways humans are exposed to microplastics is through food 

 The exposure will also increase if someone drinks water that contains microplastic. An estimate states that each person ingests between 39,000 and 52,000 particles of microplastic annually. The presence of microplastic particles in the human blood (1.6 g/mL), colon (331 particles/person), stool (1-36 particles/g of stool), and saliva (0.33 g/person) has indicated exposure to microplastics through eating. Therefore, one of the main worries is the adverse effects of microplastics on the human population. Researchers have noted the genotoxic and cytotoxic effects of microplastics on human health.

The environment and inhabitants of the national park will both be at risk from the microplastics introduced into the soil from neighboring locations. Microplastic debris may contaminate the soil and the animals' food supply. Additionally, the animals' consumption of polluted lake water will worsen the situation because the park is next to Upper Lake.

Studies have revealed that when terrestrial animals are exposed to microplastics, these particles end up in their milk, flesh, and blood. The soil's micro- and mesofauna, including mites, pot worms, collembolans, etc., may consume the microplastic particles. As these species are crucial to the dynamics of organic matter and the maintenance of the soil's physical structure, adverse effects on the waste food web are expected. As a result, soil contamination in the Van Vihar National Park could significantly impact the environment, animal development, and health.

Adverse effects on the soil and groundwater

Microplastics in the soil are problematic because they may influence the soil's physicochemical and biological characteristics, which may impact plants and soil creatures. The changes in soil characteristics may harm plants, such as stunted development, changed physiology, etc. As organic molecules with high carbon content, microplastics have the potential to change the soil's Carbon: Nitrogen ratio, which results in microbial immobilization.

In addition to this, it is also anticipated that water will percolate through the soil after the rainfall. In order to contaminate groundwater aquifers, microplastic contamination in deeper soil layers can potentially transmit these particles to subsurface water vertically. Therefore, additional research is required to determine the level of microplastic contamination. The assessment of particles smaller than 500 micrometers is also crucial since smaller particles are more likely to affect subsurface soil layers and groundwater resources.

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