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School of Environment, Education and Development

Study finds UK rivers are heavily contaminated with microplastics

19 March 2018

Researchers from The University of Manchester's Geography department are calling for tighter regulations on waste flowing into urban waterways after a study found that microplastics from urban river channels are a major contributor to ocean pollution.

In the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world, Rachel Hurley, Professor Jamie Woodward, and Dr James Rothwell examined the microplastics in river sediments from 40 sites across Greater Manchester, including rural streams in the hills and urban rivers in the city centre. 

They discovered microplastic contamination in all parts of the network - including a site on the River Tame at Denton which had the highest levels so far recorded anywhere in the world.

"Microplastics in the ocean have recently attracted a lot of attention, but until now science knew little about the major sources of this pollution and the transport processes involved," said Professor Woodward, Head of Geography.

"We decided to explore the contamination of urban river beds, as we began to think that they may be the main source of the problem.

"We are only beginning to understand the extent of the microplastic contamination problem in the world’s rivers.

"To tackle the problem in the oceans, we have to prevent microplastics entering river channels.

"We also need to reduce our use of plastics large and small.

"We welcome the microbead ban introduced by Michael Gove earlier this year, and we hope that improvements in wastewater management will be put in place in the future."

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