SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 7, 2019

SNIP: Microplastic pollution spans the world, according to new studies showing contamination in the UK’s lake and rivers, in groundwater in the US and along the Yangtze river in China and the coast of Spain.

Humans are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the possible health effects on people and ecosystems have yet to be determined. One study, in Singapore, has found that microplastics can harbour harmful microbes.

The new analysis in the UK found microplastic pollution in all 10 lakes, rivers and reservoirs sampled. More than 1,000 small pieces of plastic per litre were found in the River Tame, near Manchester, which was revealed last year as the most contaminated place yet tested worldwide. Even in relatively remote places such as the Falls of Dochart and Loch Lomond in Scotland, two or three pieces per litre were found.

“It was startling. I wasn’t expecting to find as much as we did,” said Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Wales, who led the work. “It is quite depressing they were there in some of our country’s most iconic locations. I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater in the Lake District was polluted with plastic.”

Microplastics have been shown to harm marine life when mistaken for food and were found inside every marine mammal studied in a recent UK survey. They were revealed in 2017 to be in tap water around the world and in October to be consumed by people in Europe, Japan and Russia.

Research by the National University of Singapore found more than 400 types of bacteria on 275 pieces of microplastic collected from local beaches. They included bugs that cause gastroenteritis and wound infections in humans, as well as those linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.

Defined as smaller than 5mm in size, microplastics have also been found underground in limestone aquifers in Illinois, US, at a level of 15 particles per litre. This type of groundwater source provides about a quarter of the world’s drinking water.