Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) as a Source of Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment

Fionn Murphy, Ciaran Ewins, Frederic Carbonnier, Brian Quinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Municipal effluent discharged from wastewater treatment works (WwTW) is suspected to be a significant contributor of microplastics (MP) to the environment as many personal care products contain plastic microbeads. A secondary WwTW (population equivalent 650 000) was sampled for microplastics at different stages of the treatment process to ascertain at what stage in the treatment process the MP are being removed. The influent contained on average 15.70 (±5.23) MP·L(-1). This was reduced to 0.25 (±0.04) MP·L(-1) in the final effluent, a decrease of 98.41%. Despite this large reduction we calculate that this WwTW is releasing 65 million microplastics into the receiving water every day. A significant proportion of the microplastic accumulated in and was removed during the grease removal stage (19.67 (±4.51) MP/2.5 g), it was only in the grease that the much publicised microbeads were found. This study shows that despite the efficient removal rates of MP achieved by this modern treatment plant when dealing with such a large volume of effluent even a modest amount of microplastics being released per liter of effluent could result in significant amounts of microplastics entering the environment. This is the first study to describe in detail the fate of microplastics during the wastewater treatment process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5800-8
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume50
Issue number11
Early online date18 May 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2016

Fingerprint

Wastewater treatment
aquatic environment
Effluents
effluent
Lubricating greases
Plastic products
plastic
wastewater treatment
Water
water
removal

Keywords

  • Microplastic
  • Municipal effluent
  • Pollution
  • Separation
  • Waster water treatment plant
  • Environment
  • Ecotoxicology

Cite this

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title = "Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) as a Source of Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment",
abstract = "Municipal effluent discharged from wastewater treatment works (WwTW) is suspected to be a significant contributor of microplastics (MP) to the environment as many personal care products contain plastic microbeads. A secondary WwTW (population equivalent 650 000) was sampled for microplastics at different stages of the treatment process to ascertain at what stage in the treatment process the MP are being removed. The influent contained on average 15.70 (±5.23) MP·L(-1). This was reduced to 0.25 (±0.04) MP·L(-1) in the final effluent, a decrease of 98.41{\%}. Despite this large reduction we calculate that this WwTW is releasing 65 million microplastics into the receiving water every day. A significant proportion of the microplastic accumulated in and was removed during the grease removal stage (19.67 (±4.51) MP/2.5 g), it was only in the grease that the much publicised microbeads were found. This study shows that despite the efficient removal rates of MP achieved by this modern treatment plant when dealing with such a large volume of effluent even a modest amount of microplastics being released per liter of effluent could result in significant amounts of microplastics entering the environment. This is the first study to describe in detail the fate of microplastics during the wastewater treatment process.",
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Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) as a Source of Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment. / Murphy, Fionn; Ewins, Ciaran; Carbonnier, Frederic; Quinn, Brian.

In: Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 50, No. 11, 07.06.2016, p. 5800-8.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) as a Source of Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment

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AB - Municipal effluent discharged from wastewater treatment works (WwTW) is suspected to be a significant contributor of microplastics (MP) to the environment as many personal care products contain plastic microbeads. A secondary WwTW (population equivalent 650 000) was sampled for microplastics at different stages of the treatment process to ascertain at what stage in the treatment process the MP are being removed. The influent contained on average 15.70 (±5.23) MP·L(-1). This was reduced to 0.25 (±0.04) MP·L(-1) in the final effluent, a decrease of 98.41%. Despite this large reduction we calculate that this WwTW is releasing 65 million microplastics into the receiving water every day. A significant proportion of the microplastic accumulated in and was removed during the grease removal stage (19.67 (±4.51) MP/2.5 g), it was only in the grease that the much publicised microbeads were found. This study shows that despite the efficient removal rates of MP achieved by this modern treatment plant when dealing with such a large volume of effluent even a modest amount of microplastics being released per liter of effluent could result in significant amounts of microplastics entering the environment. This is the first study to describe in detail the fate of microplastics during the wastewater treatment process.

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