Abundance, Distribution and Drivers of Microplastic Contaminant in Urban River Environments

Joe Tibbetts, Stefan Krause, Iseult Lynch, Gregory H. Sambrook Smith

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Given the persistence of microplastics in the environment and their potential toxicity to ecosystems, understanding of likely microplastic accumulation ‘hotspots’ in rivers is urgently needed. To contribute to this challenge, this paper reports results of a microplastic survey from a heavily urbanised catchment, the River Tame, which flows through the city of Birmingham, UK. All sediment sampled was found to contain microplastics with an average abundance of 165 particles kg-1. While urban areas generally have a greater abundance of microplastics as compared with rural, there is no simple relationship between microplastic numbers and population density or proximity to wastewater treatment sites. The greatest change in microplastic abundance was due to the presence of a lake along the course of the River Tame i.e. on entering the lake flow velocities are reduced which promotes the deposition of fine sediment and potentially microplastics. This suggests that the greatest concentrations of microplastics will not be found in-channel but rather on the floodplain and other low velocity environments such as meander cutoffs. We also identified a new mechanism of microplastic fixation in freshwater environments through ecological engineers, specifically caddisfly that incorporated microplastics into their casing. These results highlight the need to explore further hydrodynamic and ecological impacts on microplastics fate and transport in rivers.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2018


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