Microplastic presence in urban water: what happens

Pollution is becoming endemic, and microplastics play a key role in pollution. Even in big cities, microplastics are slowly colonizing urban water

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Microplastic presence in urban water: what happens

A systematic study of microplastic occurrence in urban water networks of a metropolis, an article published on the Water research, highlights a problem that our society is facing in this era. Pollution is becoming endemic, and microplastics play a key role in pollution.

Even in big cities, microplastics are slowly colonizing urban water. The researchers explain: "The release of microplastics from sewage treatment works (STWs) into the oceans around coastal cities is well documented. However, there are fewer studies on the microplastic abundance in stormwater drains and their emissions into the coastal marine environment via sewage and stormwater drainage networks.

Here, we comprehensively investigated microplastic abundance in 66 sewage and 18 sludge samples collected from different process stages at three typical STWs and 36 typical water samples taken from six major stormwater drains during the dry and wet seasons in Hong Kong, which is a metropolitan city in south China.

The results showed that microplastics were detected in all the sewage and stormwater samples, with the abundance ranging from 0.07 to 91.9 and from 0.4 to 36.48 particles/L, respectively, and in all the sludge samples with the abundance ranging from 167 to 936 particles/g (d.w.)."

Microplastic presence in urban water: what happens

The reseachers then said: "There were no significant seasonal variations in the microplastic abundance across all samples of sewage, sludge, and stormwater.

For both waterborne sample types, a smaller size (0.02-0.3 mm) and fiber shape were the dominant characteristics of the microplastics. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP) were the most abundant polymer types in the sewage samples, while polyethylene (PE), PET, PP, and PE-PP copolymer were the most abundant polymer types in the stormwater samples.

The estimated range of total daily microplastic loads in the effluent from STWs in Hong Kong is estimated to be 4.48 × 109 - 2.68 × 1010 particles/day, demonstrating that STWs are major pathways of microplastics in coastal environments despite the high removal percentage of microplastics in sewage treatment processes examined.

This is the first comprehensive study on microplastics in the urban waters of a coastal metropolis. However, further studies on other coastal cities will enable an accurate estimation of the microplastic contribution of stormwater drains to the world's oceans."