Potential risk from microplastics and nanoparticles

Potential risk from microplastics and nanoparticles

Published On 06/06/2018

A project on microplastics, Sink to River - River to Tap

A review of Potential Risks from Nano-particles and Microplastics, began in April as part of UKWIR's 2018/19 research programme.

Since the project was agreed at last October's Advisory Group meeting, the issue of microplastics has continued to feature in the news and rise up the political agenda.

Public attention

The BBC programme, Blue Planet, increases public attention on the world-wide problem of plastic waste.

More recently a couple of further studies have gained considerable publicity:-.

  • a Manchester University study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that plastic beads, fragments and fibres are present in riverbeds across the UK, from rural streams to urban waterways
  • a study, conducted by the State University of New York in Fredonia for Orb Media, found traces of plastic in many brands of bottled water.

Heading this latter research, Professor Mason said that 'currently there is no evidence that ingesting very small pieces of plastic can cause harm (to humans) but understanding the potential implications is an active area of science'.

In UKWIR News 86 it was reported that the Global Water Research Coalition, of which UKWIR is a member, had identified microplastics as a major issue.

UKWIR also announced their support for a four year project entitled, Quantifying the Influence of Waste Water Treatment on the Release of Microplastics to the Environment, being undertaken by the University of Plymouth.

Clear understanding

The current Sink to River - River to Tap - A review of Potential Risks from Nano-particles and Microplastics  project is required to give a clearer understanding to the water industry of any presence or risks arising from nanoparticles and microplastics.

Its scope will cover raw water abstraction, through to water treatment and supply and then from wastewater collection and treatment through to the wastewater discharge. 

Sludges arising from water and wastewater treatment will also be assessed.

The project has the following objectives:

  • the research will focus on assessment of the quantity and type (and hence potential source) of microplastics in; treated wastewater effluent, discharges from the sewerage system, drinking water leaving water treatment works (should any be found), sludges arising from water treatment and treated sewage sludge (biosolids)
  • the research will also help to confirm the best analytical methods to assess the type, the size and the quantity of microplastics throughout the whole water and sewerage system.

This one year project has Nina Jones as Project Manager and Thames Water’s Howard Brett and Yorkshire Water’s John Haley as Programme Leads.

Exeter University, in conjunction with UKWIR as industrial collaborator, are offering a four year fully funded PhD opportunity on Microplastics in Wastewater.

The overall aim of the proposed research is to develop a knowledge base that facilitates improved understanding of complexities involved in the microplastics quantification, characterisation and toxicity potential assessment and then explore the effectiveness of available treatments.