PlastX – Microplastics in bodies of running water
The junior research group PlastX, led by ISOE, is examining the societal role of plastic and its impact on the environment. The sub-project Microplastics in bodies of running water is developing a concept to assess the environmental risks associated with microplastics in bodies of running water.
Through the decomposition of plastic waste in the environment, but also through tyre wear, for example, smaller fragments of plastic (microplastics) are created which accumulate in the environment (secondary microplastics); moreover, microplastic particles can be released into the environment directly due to their use, e.g. in cosmetic products (primary microplastics). However, both the risk research and the public debate on plastics focus mostly on the problem of plastics in the world’s oceans (i.e. the “garbage patch”).
So there are correspondingly large gaps in knowledge when it comes to the pollution of bodies of running water with microplastics and the impact of this pollution on the aquatic flora and fauna. Therefore, in cooperation with research partners from the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main (Department of Aquatic Ecotoxicology), the sub-project aims to study the biological effects of microplastics, i.e. their bioavailability, accumulation and toxicity. This includes plastic-associated substances such as additives and adsorbed pollutants which can have damaging effects on the health of living organisms. Together with practice partners, the sub-project will also be developing risk assessment concepts for microplastics which are intended to be a foundation to regulate the entry of microplastics into surface waters.
About 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste annually are released into the world’s seas and oceans via the rivers. The decomposition of plastic waste is widely regarded as one of the main sources of microplastics, but chemical fibres washed from fabrics, tyre wear from road traffic as well as plastic granulate leakage during manufacturing and further processing are sources of secondary microplastics. It has been shown that plastic particles are ingested by various aquatic organisms. There is major uncertainty about potential damage to the ecosystem, which could also impact human health and the food chain. Plastic-associated chemicals (additives such as plasticisers, but also adsorbed pollutants) are also under scrutiny.
The term “plastics” covers a wide range of various different synthetic polymers, which are manufactured on a global scale of about 311 million tonnes per annum. The majority of plastic manufactured is used for packaging, but also in the construction industry.
Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, Department of Aquatic Ecotoxicology
Partners of the sub-project come from the fields of environmental consultancy as well as water and waste management.
The junior research group „PlastX – Plastics as a systemic risk for social-ecological supply systems“ is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the programme „Research for sustainable development (FONA)“. In FONA, PlastX belongs to the funding priority „SÖF – Social-ecological research“ within the funding area „Junior research groups in social-ecological research“.
Hahn, Annette/Gunnar Gerdts/Carolin Völker/Vincent Niebühr (2019): Using FTIRS as pre-screening method for detection of microplastic in bulk sediment samples. Science of the Total Environment 689, 341-346
Völker, Carolin/Johanna Kramm/Martin Wagner (2019): On the Creation of Risk: Framing of Microplastics in Science and Media. Global Challenges (1900010)