To contribute to the scientific understanding of microplastic pollution, APEM’s laboratories are introducing a system to record when it is found in water samples. Scientists will build a database by noting the type, quantity and location of any microplastic pollution they find while analysing samples.

The company’s four laboratories in England, Wales and Scotland analyse thousands of freshwater and marine samples each year, mainly from sites around the UK but also from further afield.

Freshwater laboratories technical specialist, Richard Bassett, explained: “Typically we’re looking for the tiny plants and animals that live in the water. But under our microscopes what we often see instead is a myriad of plastic pollution, including beads, fibres, filaments and plastic fragments.

Plastic filament found during water sample analysis

“The concern is that these are likely to be disrupting the normal biological processes that underpin healthy aquatic ecosystems.”

The problem of plastic pollution in our seas and rivers has rarely left the headlines since it was dramatically highlighted in the final episode of David Attenborough’s landmark series, Blue Planet II.

Here in the UK, greater urgency has been lent by the news that the River Tame near Manchester has the highest level of microplastic pollution ever recorded in the world. Worse even than in densely populated areas of Hong Kong and South Korea.

Scientists from the University of Manchester found microplastics in river sediments at all 40 sites they looked around Greater Manchester. But a site on the River Tame topped the list, with over half a million items of microplastic per square metre of riverbed.

However, Professor Jamie Woodard of the university’s Department of Geography told the Daily Telegraph that similar results were also likely to be found in rivers in the West Midlands or south-east England.

About a third of all the microplastics found were in the form of microbeads, which until they were banned in January this year were commonly used in products like face scrubs, toothpaste and shower gels.

APEM associate director, Peter Dennis, said: “The clean-up of the UK’s most grossly polluted rivers over the last three decades has been a dramatic success.

“Fish have returned to and are flourishing in waters where, in some cases, they hadn’t been seen in generations.

“It would be tragic if, having done so much to repair the damage caused by unfettered pollution during the Industrial Revolution, our modern lifestyles are allowed to unleash a new wave of pollution that is potentially even more damaging.”

If you have any queries, please contact Richard Bassett, Freshwater Laboratories Technical Specialist.
Alternatively you can email us here. Or call 0161 442 8938.