Microplastic pollution in freshwater ecosystems is an emerging topic in aquatic pollution science. Primary microplastics were designed to be small (e.g., microbeads, pre-production plastic nurdles) and secondary microplastics result from photo and mechanical degradation. Origin of microplastics are often associated with consumer use of personal care items (e.g., facial cleansers and toothpastes) which are too small to be captured with current wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) technologies. Ongoing research cites dangers resulting in their propensity to absorb harmful chemicals and bioaccumulate up the food chain. We surveyed WWTP post-treatment effluent (N = 11) from the city of Plattsburgh, NY wastewater treatment plant in fall 2015. Effluent samples were collected and digested using wet peroxide oxidation methods, followed by characterization based on type and size. The majority of microplastics in wastewater effluent were identified as fibers (51%), as compared to similar proportions of pellets/beads (12%), films (15%), fragment (18%), and lesser films (4%). The largest (>=1mm) and smallest (<=125µm) were predominantly fibers (87%) and (44%), respectively. Diversity of microplastic type (e.g., film, fragment, foam) increased with decreasing particle size. On high and low flow rate days, more bead/pellet and films were collected respectively. Microplastics have been an emerging concern in aquatic life as they can absorb harmful chemicals and bioaccumulate up the food chain. This research from Lake Champlain can serve as a basis for further microplastic studies in the Lake Champlain watershed.
Student poster, Center for Earth and Environmental Science, SUNY Plattsburgh